A ccording to the US Census Bureau, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group, defined as any group other than non-Hispanic White alone, by 2044. 1 Consequently, the United States rapidly is becoming a country in which the majority of citizens will have skin of color. Individuals with skin of color are of diverse ethnic backgrounds and include people of African, Latin American, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Asian descent, as well as interethnic backgrounds. 2 Throughout the country, dermatologists along with primary care practitioners may be confronted with certain cutaneous conditions that have varying disease presentations or processes in patients with skin of color. It also is important to note that racial categories are socially rather than biologically constructed, and the term skin of color includes a wide variety of diverse skin types. Nevertheless, the current literature thoroughly supports unique pathophysiologic differences in skin of color as well as variations in disease manifestation compared to White patients. 3-5 For example, the increased lability of melanosomes in skin of color patients, which increases their risk for postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, has been well documented. 5-7 There are various dermatologic conditions that also occur with higher frequency and manifest uniquely in people with darker, more pigmented skin, 7-9 and dermatologists, along with primary care physicians, should feel prepared to recognize and address them.
Extensive evidence also indicates that there are unique aspects to consider while managing certain skin diseases in patients with skin of color.8,10,11 Consequently, as noted on the Skin of Color Society (SOCS) website, “[a]n increase in the body of dermatological literature concerning skin of color as well as the advancement of both basic science and clinical investigational research is necessary to meet the needs of the expanding skin of color population.”2 In the meantime, current knowledge regarding cutaneous conditions that diversely or disproportionately affect skin of color should be actively disseminated to physicians in training. Although patients with skin of color should always have access to comprehensive care and knowledgeable practitioners, the current changes in national and regional demographics further underscore the need for a more thorough understanding of skin of color with regard to disease pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment.
Several studies have found that medical students in the United States are minimally exposed to dermatology in general compared to other clinical specialties,12-14 which can easily lead to the underrecognition of disorders that may uniquely or disproportionately affect individuals with pigmented skin. Recent data showed that medical schools typically required fewer than 10 hours of dermatology instruction,12 and on average, dermatologic training made up less than 1% of a medical student’s undergraduate medical education.13,15,16 Consequently, less than 40% of primary care residents felt that their medical school curriculum adequately prepared them to manage common skin conditions.14 Although not all physicians should be expected to fully grasp the complexities of skin of color and its diagnostic and therapeutic implications, both practicing and training dermatologists have acknowledged a lack of exposure to skin of color. In one study, approximately 47% of dermatologists and dermatology residents reported that their medical training (medical school and/or residency) was inadequate in training them on skin conditions in Black patients. Furthermore, many who felt their training was lacking in skin of color identified the need for greater exposure to Black patients and training materials.15 The absence of comprehensive medical education regarding skin of color ultimately can be a disadvantage for both practitioners and patients, resulting in poorer outcomes. Furthermore, underrepresentation of skin of color may persist beyond undergraduate and graduate medical education. There also is evidence to suggest that noninclusion of skin of color pervades foundational dermatologic educational resources, including commonly used textbooks as well as continuing medical education disseminated at national conferences and meetings.17 Taken together, these findings highlight the need for more diverse and representative exposure to skin of color throughout medical training, which begins with a diverse inclusive undergraduate medical education in dermatology.
The objective of this study was to determine if the preclinical dermatology curriculum at 3 US medical schools provided adequate representation of skin of color patients in their didactic presentation slides.
Participants—Three US medical schools, a blend of private and public medical schools located across different geographic boundaries, agreed to participate in the study. All 3 institutions were current members of the American Medical Association (AMA) Accelerating Change in Medical Education consortium, whose primary goal is to create the medical school of the future and transform physician training.18 All 32 member institutions of the AMA consortium were contacted to request their participation in the study. As part of the consortium, these institutions have vowed to collectively work to develop and share the best models for educational advancement to improve care for patients, populations, and communities18 and would expectedly provide a more racially and ethnically inclusive curriculum than an institution not accountable to a group dedicated to identifying the best ways to deliver care for increasingly diverse communities.
Data Collection—Lectures were included if they were presented during dermatology preclinical courses in the 2015 to 2016 academic year. An uninvolved third party removed the names and identities of instructors to preserve anonymity. Two independent coders from different institutions extracted the data—lecture title, total number of clinical and histologic images, and number of skin of color images—from each of the anonymized lectures using a standardized coding form. We documented differences in skin of color noted in lectures and the disease context for the discussed differences, such as variations in clinical presentation, disease process, epidemiology/risk, and treatment between different skin phenotypes or ethnic groups. Photographs in which the coders were unable to differentiate whether the patient had skin of color were designated as indeterminate or unclear. Photographs appearing to represent Fitzpatrick skin types IV, V, and VI19 were categorically designated as skin of color, and those appearing to represent Fitzpatrick skin types I and II were described as not skin of color; however, images appearing to represent Fitzpatrick skin type III often were classified as not skin of color or indeterminate and occasionally skin of color. The Figure shows examples of images classified as skin of color, indeterminate, and not skin of color. Photographs often were classified as indeterminate due to poor lighting, close-up view photographs, or highlighted pathology obscuring the surrounding skin. We excluded duplicate photographs and histologic images from the analyses.
We also reviewed 19 conditions previously highlighted by the SOCS as areas of importance to skin of color patients.20 The coders tracked how many of these conditions were noted in each lecture. Duplicate discussion of these conditions was not included in the analyses. Any discrepancies between coders were resolved through additional slide review and discussion. The final coded data with the agreed upon changes were used for statistical analyses. Recent national demographic data from the US Census Bureau in 2019 describe approximately 39.9% of the population as belonging to racial/ethnic groups other than non-Hispanic/Latinx White.21 Consequently, the standard for adequate representation for skin of color photographs was set at 35% for the purpose of this study.