Social justice in medical education: inclusion is not enough—it’s just the first step

Diego Lima Ribeiro
Marco Antonio de Carvalho Filho
Maria Beatriz Machado
Soort article
Original Research
Affirmative policies,
Medical education,
Professional identity,
Social justice,
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Introduction Medical schools worldwide are creating inclusion policies to increase the admission of students from vulnerable social groups. This study explores how medical students from vulnerable social groups experience belongingness as they join the medical community.

Methods This qualitative study applied thematic analysis to 10 interviews with medical students admitted to one medical school through an affirmative policy. The interviews followed the drawing of a rich picture, in which the students represented a challenging situation experienced in their training, considering their socio-economic and racial background. The analysis was guided by the modes of belonging (engagement, imagination, and alignment) described by the Communities of Practice framework.

Results Participants struggled to imagine themselves as future doctors because they lack identification with the medical environment, suffer from low self-esteem, aside from experiencing racial and social discrimination. Participants also find it troublesome to engage in social and professional activities because of financial disadvantages and insufficient support from the university. However, participants strongly align with the values of the public health system and show deep empathy for the patients.

Discussion Including students with different socio-economic and racial backgrounds offers an opportunity to reform the medical culture. Medical educators need to devise strategies to support students’ socialization through activities that increase their self-esteem and make explicit the contributions they bring to the medical community.


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