Skin of Color

Skin of Color in Preclinical Medical Education: A Cross-Institutional Comparison and A Call to Action

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More Skin of Color Photographs in Cutaneous Malignancy Lectures—Similarly, while a lecturer at institution 2 noted that acral lentiginous melanoma accounts for a considerable proportion of melanoma among skin of color patients,23 there was no mention of how melanoma generally is substantially more deadly in this population, potentially due to decreased awareness and inconsistent screening.24 Furthermore, at institutions 1 and 3, there were no photographs or discussion of skin of color patients during the cutaneous malignancy lectures. Evidence shows that more emphasis is needed for melanoma screening and awareness in skin of color populations to improve survival outcomes,24 and this begins with educating not only future dermatologists but all future physicians as well. The failure to include photographs of skin of color patients in discussions or lectures regarding cutaneous malignancies may serve to further perpetuate the harmful misperception that individuals with skin of color are unaffected by skin cancer.25,26

Analysis of Skin of Color Photographs in Infectious Disease Lectures—In addition, lectures discussing infectious etiologies were among those with the highest proportion of skin of color photographs. This relatively disproportionate representation of skin of color compared to the other lectures may contribute to the development of harmful stereotypes or the stigmatization of skin of color patients. Although skin of color should continue to be represented in similar lectures, teaching faculty should remain mindful of the potential unintended impact from lectures including relatively disproportionate amounts of skin of color, particularly when other lectures may have sparse to absent representation of skin of color.

More Photographs Available for Education—Overall, our findings may help to inform changes to preclinical dermatology medical education at other institutions to create more inclusive and representative curricula for skin of color patients. The ability of instructors to provide visual representation of various dermatologic conditions may be limited by the photographs available in certain textbooks with few examples of patients with skin of color; however, concerns regarding the lack of skin of color representation in dermatology training is not a novel discussion.17 Although it is the responsibility of all dermatologists to advocate for the inclusion of skin of color, many dermatologists of color have been leading the way in this movement for decades, publishing several textbooks to document various skin conditions in those with darker skin types and discuss unique considerations for patients with skin of color.27-29 Images from these textbooks can be utilized by programs to increase representation of skin of color in dermatology training. There also are multiple expanding online dermatologic databases, such as VisualDx, with an increasing focus on skin of color patients, some of which allow users to filter images by degree of skin pigmentation.30 Moreover, instructors also can work to diversify their curricula by highlighting more of the SOCS conditions of importance to skin of color patients, which have since been renamed and highlighted on the Patient Dermatology Education section of the SOCS website.20 These conditions, while not completely comprehensive, provide a useful starting point for medical educators to reevaluate for potential areas of improvement and inclusion.

There are several potential strategies that can be used to better represent skin of color in dermatologic preclinical medical education, including increasing awareness, especially among dermatology teaching faculty, of existing disparities in the representation of skin of color in the preclinical curricula. Additionally, all dermatology teaching materials could be reviewed at the department level prior to being disseminated to medical students to assess for instances in which skin of color could be prioritized for discussion or varying disease presentations in skin of color could be demonstrated. Finally, teaching faculty may consider photographing more clinical images of their skin of color patients to further develop a catalog of diverse images that can be used to teach students.

Study Limitations—Our study was unable to account for verbal discussion of skin of color not otherwise denoted or captured in lecture slides. Additional limitations include the utilization of Fitzpatrick skin types to describe and differentiate varying skin tones, as the Fitzpatrick scale originally was developed as a method to describe an individual’s response to UV exposure.19 The inability to further delineate the representation of darker skin types, such as those that may be classified as Fitzpatrick skin types V or VI,19 compared to those with lighter skin of color also was a limiting factor. This study was unable to assess for discussion of other common conditions affecting skin of color patients that were not listed as one of the priority conditions by SOCS. Photographs that were designated as indeterminate were difficult to elucidate as skin of color; however, it is possible that instructors may have verbally described these images as skin of color during lectures. Nonetheless, it may be beneficial for learners if teaching faculty were to clearly label instances where skin of color patients are shown or when notable differences are present.


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