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Academic Medicine and Black Lives Matter Time for Deep Listening (NEJM)

By Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc1JAMA. Published June 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12532

Echoes of “medicine as the noble profession” continue to resonate, now 35 years since my legendary Chair of Medicine imbued me with this guiding ethos. Nobility in medicine is not obsolete; the selflessness, courage, self-sacrifice, and altruism on gallant display in the response to COVID-19 reassures that at its core, this ethic of egalitarian service remains intact and deeply established in the DNA of physicians worldwide, including the ranks of academic medicine. But now, a new test of this nobility has emerged.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, and others have placed racism, especially anti-Black racism, as an ever-present painful reality in the collective social conscience and have vigorously galvanized Black Lives Matter. Academic medicine has not been immune from the influence of this intensely spirited movement. #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives and #ShutdownSTEM are highly visible exhortations to raise awareness of racism on the campuses of academic medical centers. Accompanying statements acknowledge that science needs to “look in the mirror” and make space for people of color to lead laboratories that publish great science and produce influential scientists.1 As one accomplished Black scientist queried: “How much creativity are we leaving on the table?”1 These symbolic efforts and pensive statements have recently been joined by poignant student-generated protestation statements received by leadership of major academic medical centers with the expectation of explicit action focused on racial equity in academic medicine. This groundswell chorus arguing for change cannot be quieted. Leaders in academic medicine are committed to respond; as a former Black medical student 38 years prior, I am emboldened to applaud.

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