More diversity is needed in medical textbooks used in North American schools, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto found that depictions of race and skin tone in these materials could be contributing to racial bias in medical treatment.
Using four books to compare, researchers analyzed the race and skin tone of more than 4,000 human images.
The study’s lead author, Patricia Louie, says the proportion of dark skin tones represented in all four books was very small.
“Some diseases present differently on different skin tones. So the absence of dark skin tones is also problematic when their appearance is necessary for the detection of disease, such as skin cancer, she said.
“So if students don’t see images of how skin cancer presents on darker skin patients, doctors might not be prepared or recognize skin cancer on these darker skin patients.”
The researchers are arguing that mortality rates for some cancers are higher on average for black people due to late diagnosis.
“I think this study raises questions about whether doctors are trained to treat diverse populations,” said Louie.
“And these are the books that they frequently assign to first and second year medical students, so what we found was that the representation of race in medical school textbooks are proportional to the population, but the representation of skin tone is not.”
You can find the full study here.