Practical Lessons for Teaching About Race and Racism: Successfully Leading Free, Frank, and Fearless Discussions

Acad Med. 2020 Dec;95(12S Addressing Harmful Bias and Eliminating Discrimination in Health Professions Learning Environments):S139-S144. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003710.


Successfully teaching about race and racism requires a careful balance of emotional safety and honest truth-telling. Creating such environments where all learners can thrive and grow together is a challenge, but a consistently doable one. This article describes 12 lessons learned within 4 main themes: ground rules; language and communication; concepts of social constructs, intersectionality, and bidirectional biases; and structural racism, solutions, and advocacy. The authors' recommendations for how to successfully teach health professions students about race and racism come from their collective experience of over 60 years of instruction, research, and practice. Proficiency in discussing race and addressing racism will become increasingly relevant as health care institutions strive to address the social needs of patients (e.g., food insecurity, housing instability) that contribute to poor health and are largely driven by structural inequities. Having interprofessional team-based care, with teams better able to understand and counteract their own biases, will be critical to addressing the social and structural determinants of health for marginalized patients. Recognizing that implicit biases about race impact both patients and health professions students from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds is a critical step toward building robust curricula about race and health equity that will improve the learning environment for trainees and reduce health disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum / trends
  • Feedback
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Racism / prevention & control*
  • Racism / psychology
  • Teaching / standards*