The Conscientious Use of Images Illustrating Diversity in Medical Education Marketing

Acad Med. 2020 Dec;95(12):1807-1810. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003503.


An institution's marketing materials are an important part of presenting its culture. In 2018, communication professionals in the Office of Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity at the Indiana University School of Medicine recognized after reviewing the literature that using images illustrating diversity in marketing materials may have unintended negative consequences and could potentially reflect poorly on the institution. Representations of diversity that are discordant with the actual demographics of an institution can create distrust among faculty, students, and staff who discover an institution is not as diverse or supportive of diversity as their marketing materials suggest. If institutions adopt an aspirational approach to images and depict more diversity than actual demographics reflect, the authors of this Perspective recommend that they both develop marketing materials that present a widely diverse selection of images and demonstrate transparency in their communication strategies.To improve their promotional materials, the authors conducted an analysis of their institution's strategy for selecting images for these materials, identified institutional goals related to the strategic use of images, created training materials for staff, and drafted a public-facing statement about diversity in images. These measures are a significant step forward in cultivating the ethical use of images illustrating diversity. In the future, institutions should highlight their approaches to using images to portray diversity, as well as photograph and document a wide range of events that represent diverse topics and individuals. When these images are used for marketing purposes, it is also important to ensure that they are used in an appropriate context and not selected with the single goal of presenting diversity. Future research should focus on how underrepresented students and faculty interpret the use of diverse images in marketing, as well as their preferences for the use of their own images in marketing materials portraying diversity.

MeSH terms

  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Marketing*
  • United States