Medical Faculty calls on students for more diversity in education

06 Oct 2023

More attention paid to diversity within dentistry, biomedical sciences, and medicine in Nijmegen; that is the aim of the learning network Diversity, Inclusivity and Equal Opportunities. ‘There is still a lot to be done.’

Simulated patients of various ages and backgrounds; a fairer system of admissions; changes to the lecture material: these and other initiatives are what the members of the learning network Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equal Opportunities (DIK) will be focusing on, in order to improve the inclusivity of the various medical programmes.

This is highly necessary, according to Geert van den Brink, strategic advisor at the Radboudumc, as well as co-founder of DIK. ‘Everything you witness during your studies will find its way into your practice.’

Diverse lecture material

To illustrate his point, van den Brink describes situations where a physician meets a deeply religious patient, who does not have a perfect grasp of the Dutch language. ‘If every case during your education focused on ‘Mrs. De Vries’, that will make it much tougher for you to engage with this sort of conversation.’

‘What better place to start than education?’

Through simple steps, like diversifying the cases presented in the lecture material, we can make students more sensitive to cultural issues, as stated by the strategic advisor. This should result in better care overall. ‘If we want the doctors of tomorrow to be able to help people of various backgrounds, what better place to start than in education?’

And DIK was founded for that exact reason. Over the coming years, the network will focus on two main themes: diversity in lecture materials and access to the study programme. The first theme encompasses the biological differences between men and women, illnesses that are more common in certain ethnic groups, and cultural differences. Meanwhile, the other theme is concerned with the applicants that are allowed into the programme, and how those applicants are judged.

Cultural differences

After all, cultural differences are not just part of the workplace, but a part of education as well. Van den Brink: ‘For example, in the Netherlands, it is customary to keep much less distance between teacher and student in seminars when compared to lectures. This can be uncomfortable for students from cultures with more reverence for authority.’

That is not a problem in and of itself, but according to Van den Brink, it may impact the students’ evaluations. This is something that Karen Steger-Jagers, who started working in Nijmegen this month, recognised in her own research.  Van den Brink: ‘For instance, we regard recognising your weaker points as a good thing; we refer to it as self-reflective skills. But that can be very tricky for students who are more used to emphasising their strong points.’

‘Paying attention to these themes can really make a difference’

However, according to Van den Brink, that is not to say that the programmes need to be reworked from the ground up. ‘But it is important to consider what needs to be changed, or what forms of guidance need to be presented, to get all students properly involved. In doing so, I hope that Radboud University can also be made more appealing to people with a migrant background.’

Because diversity and inclusivity are a part of so many aspects of the programme, there is no single way to handle the theme. That is why Van den Brink invites both lecturers and students directly involved with medical programmes to join him in thinking about inclusive and diverse education.’

Time will tell what kind of influence the learning network will have. But Van den Brink is hopeful: ‘There is a lot to be done, but paying attention to these themes can really make a difference.’

Translated by Jasper Pesch

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