As a faculty preceptor for the Introduction to Clinical Medicine course, Hilary Surratt, PhD, associate professor of behavioral science, has witnessed learners engage in thoughtful dialogue around biases. However, she said they sometimes struggle in understanding how bias impacts clinical care.

Through the UK College of Medicine’s new Common Read Initiative, Dr. Surratt was able to help facilitate important discussions about those connections.

Each first-year medical student this year received copies of “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” to read over the summer. Written by Harvard psychologists Mahzarin Rustum Banaji, FBA, and Anthony Galt Greenwald, PhD, the book challenges the notion that people fully understand their own minds enough to assess others fairly and accurately. The authors explore hidden biases, including their own based on results from the Implicit Association Test.

During medical school orientation, Dr. Surratt was one of 19 faculty and staff facilitators who led small-group conversations about the book across all campuses at the UK College of Medicine.

First-year student Kidus Shiferawe, MPH, said that before reading “Blindspot,” he thought he had a minimal amount of bias, if any. But after reading the book and joining the discussion, he learned how environments and backgrounds shape daily decisions and interactions, and that most times, “we are not even aware of how they are impacting us.”

“Regardless of your background, race, hometown, gender, or religion, we all have implicit biases that impact us on so many levels,” Shiferawe said. “Only through intentional conversations with peers and mentors and participating in programs such as the Common Read Initiative can we learn to recognize our implicit biases.”

Faculty facilitator Angela Dearinger, MD, MPH, assistant dean for student affairs – wellness, said she loved how the initiative encouraged students to think earlier about implicit bias and its impact on patient care. She said it also demonstrated to them that the College of Medicine prioritizes these conversations and the progress they help build.

“I hope that our students begin to make connections with each other,” Dr. Dearinger said, “so that as colleagues, we can all help each other avoid blind spots.”

Fellow facilitator Dr. Surratt added that she hopes students learned “that it is OK not to have all of the answers to a very complex issue, and that they felt empowered as future clinicians to be advocates for achieving equity.”

Shiferawe said his newfound knowledge will help shape his daily decision-making during his path to a medical degree, from classroom interactions with peers and faculty to patient interactions during clinical rotations.

While Shiferawe acknowledges he will never be 100-percent free from bias, learning about blind spots is about progression, not perfection.

“We become better students, physicians, and overall better people as we learn to recognize them and counteract them, but we will never stop learning,” he said.