Pre-clinical medical student reflections on implicit bias: Implications for learning and teaching

PLoS One. 2019 Nov 15;14(11):e0225058. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225058. eCollection 2019.


Context: Implicit bias affects health professionals' clinical decision-making; nevertheless, published reports of medical education curricula exploring this concept have been limited. This research documents a recent approach to teaching implicit bias.

Methods: Medical students matriculating during 2014 and 2015 participated in a determinants of health course including instruction about implicit bias. Each submitted a reflective essay discussing implicit bias, the experience of taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and other course content. Using grounded theory methodology, student essays that discussed reactions to the IAT were analyzed for content themes based on specific statements mapping to each theme. Twenty-five percent of essays underwent a second review to calculate agreement between raters regarding identification of statements mapping to themes.

Outcome: Of 250 essays, three-quarters discussed students' results on the IAT. Theme comments related to: a) experience taking the IAT, b) bias in medicine, and c) prescriptive comments. Most of the comments (84%) related to students' acknowledging the importance of recognizing implicit bias. More than one-half (60%) noted that bias affects clinical decision-making, and one-fifth (19%) stated that they believe it is the physician's responsibility to advocate for dismantling bias.

Conclusions: Through taking the IAT and developing an understanding of implicit bias, medical students can gain insight into the effect it may have on clinical decision-making. Having pre-clinical medical students explore implicit bias through the IAT can lay a foundation for discussing this very human tendency.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Students, Medical*

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.