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At the University of Michigan, critical race theory has invaded yet another discipline: medicine. In January 2021, Michigan Medicine’s Anti-Racism Oversight Committee Action Plan called for designing a new curriculum, one that would use an “intersectional framework” and incorporate “critical race theory.”
The story is a microcosm of a nationwide trend that has not spared medicine. In the summer of 2020, senior administrators at Michigan Medicine, like many of their colleagues around the country, called for large-scale change. On June 1, five deans and vice presidents published a letter decrying health disparities, declaring: “We must reject and prevent this manifest . . . injustice.” A few days later, the executive vice president for medical affairs expressed the same urgency in a letter titled “The Time is Now.”
Students pressured the administrators to follow through on their ambitious rhetoric. A coalition of students and student organizations published its own letter, demanding concrete action from the medical school. “Correcting centuries of historical injustices perpetrated against the Black community,” the letter reads, “requires a radical departure from what we are currently doing.” The letter listed over a dozen far-reaching demands. “Michigan Medicine must end traditional policing efforts on its grounds,” it asserted. “Michigan Medicine must support physicians in taking an active role in advocacy efforts”—that is, “a greater role in advocating for change in our communities and government.”
Most notably, the letter demanded a curriculum overhaul. “The redesign,” it dictated, “must use an intersectional framework that incorporates critical race theory.” It hyperlinked to a journal article on intersectionality in medicine, which surmises that “considering intersectionality could lead to more successful patient-clinician interactions.”
The school was happy to oblige. It created a Racial Justice Oversight Committee, which released its Action Plan in early 2021. The 24-page document lays out concrete steps based on the students’ demands, steps which were then “endorsed by Michigan Medicine Leadership.” Thus, Michigan Medicine promised to integrate racially divisive ideology into its curriculum. Closely following student demands, the plan calls for a redesign of Michigan Medicine’s undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education. The redesign should adopt the new framework “in partnership with health justice education professionals.”
The Action Plan lays out how it will achieve that objective. One of the plan’s “deliverables” calls for hiring outside experts: “Recruitment of critical race theory, health justice education, and intersectionality expert(s) to develop scholarship/update med school curriculum, residency/educator training.” Another calls for expanded faculty training “on how to teach intersectionality, health justice, and critical race theory from materials developed by recruited experts.” The plan even vows to “provide anti-racism, critical race theory, health justice, and intersectionality resident education for residents as applied to medical care and include curriculum based on Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning book.” Kendi famously argues that any disparity between groups is, by default, a symptom of racism—a disputed brand of “antiracism,” to say the least.
Inserting such work into the curriculum is unlikely to improve education at Michigan Medicine, but it’s guaranteed to politicize it—and that’s no surprise, given that the Action Plan explicitly advocates injecting politics into the practice of medicine. Another objective calls for “the inclusion of dedicated time and resources to faculty, staff, and learners for leadership/professional development and advocacy.” This implies that the apolitical practice of medicine is not enough; doctors should be activists.
The Anti-Racism Action Plan constitutes just one component of a larger project at Michigan Medicine. In October 2020, the medical school released a 47-page diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan. This plan ensures an entrenched DEI bureaucracy. Some steps simply widen the scope of the DEI bureaucracy, such as “Employ data-supported evaluation and accountability tracking structure.” Others add DEI training, on top of the newly announced intersectionality curriculum. The DEI plan promises to “Implement multiple levels of education based on DEI competencies” and “Embed DEI curriculum within Faculty Development and leadership course offerings.”
Recently, some of the biggest political debates have focused on the politicization of previously apolitical institutions, such as schools and businesses. If Michigan Medicine is any indicator, the same ideological creep is taking place in medical schools.
John Sailer is a research associate at the National Association of Scholars.
Photo by Danny Moloshok/Getty Images
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