Osteopathic medical students' understanding of race-based medicine

J Osteopath Med. 2022 Apr 26;122(6):277-287. doi: 10.1515/jom-2021-0228.


Context: Race is a social construct, not a biological or genetic construct, utilized to categorize people based on observable traits, behaviors, and geographic location. Findings from the Human Genome Project demonstrated that humans share 99.9% of their DNA; despite this evidence, race is frequently utilized as a risk factor for diagnosis and prescribing practices. Diagnosing and treating people based on race is known as race-based medicine. Race-based medicine perpetuates biases and diverts attention and resources from the social determinants of health that cause racial health inequities. Minimal research has examined medical students' understanding of race-based medicine.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess osteopathic medical students' knowledge, beliefs, and experiences with race-based medicine.

Methods: We conducted a descriptive, cross-sectional survey study to assess osteopathic medical students' knowledge, beliefs, and experiences with race-based medicine. An electronic, anonymous survey was distributed to all osteopathic medical students enrolled at a medical school in the Midwest with three campuses during the 2019-2020 academic year. Participants completed a brief demographic questionnaire and the Race-Based Medicine Questionnaire. Descriptive and inferential statistics were conducted utilizing SPSS statistical software version 28.0, and statistical significance was defined as a p<0.05. Open-ended questions were analyzed utilizing content and thematic analyses.

Results: A total of 438 of the 995 osteopathic medical students consented to participate in the study, for a response rate of 44.0%. Among those participants, 221 (52.0%) reported that they had heard of the term "race-based medicine." Familiarity with the term differed by racial background (χ [2] = 24.598, p<0.001), with Black or African American participants indicating greater familiarity with the term compared to all other races. Of the participants familiar with race-based medicine, 79 (44.4%) provided the correct definition for the term; this finding did not differ by any sociodemographic variable. Part of the way through the questionnaire, all participants were provided the correct definition of "race-based medicine" and asked if they thought medical schools should teach race-based medicine. The majority of participants (n=231, 61.4%) supported the teaching of race-based medicine. Qualitative findings elaborated on participants' support or opposition for teaching race-based medicine in medical school. Those in support explained the importance of teaching historical perspectives of race-based medicine as well as race as a data point in epidemiology and its presence on board examinations, whereas those in opposition believed it contradicted osteopathic principles and practice.

Conclusions: Findings showed half of the participants were familiar with race-based medicine, and among those, less than half knew the definition of the term. Highlighting osteopathic philosophy and its focus on the whole person may be one approach to educating osteopathic medical students about race-based medicine.

Keywords: diversity and inclusion; osteopathic medical education; public health; survey research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Osteopathic Medicine* / education
  • Osteopathic Physicians*
  • Schools, Medical
  • Students, Medical*