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Letters to the Editor

Medical Students Confront Racism and Systemic Oppression Amidst a Global Pandemic

Salahou, Abiba; Rahmon, Dalia; Fedorowicz, Michelle

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003966
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To the Editor:

The year 2020 will be marked in our history textbooks with an asterisk. It will represent the year the United States witnessed an unprecedented global pandemic alongside a racial revolution. Although the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 1 ignited the brewing discontent much of the public felt toward the justice system in the United States, the national quarantine imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic made it possible for so many Americans to take part in this racial awakening. Everyone was indoors, collectively witnessing the public killing of a Black man who cried out helplessly for his mother for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 1 The events that took place on May 25th shifted the paradigm of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the medical community shifted along with it. In particular, medical students across the country began drafting “call to action” documents urging their institutions to reassess their medical curriculum and the ways in which the medical community has failed marginalized patient populations.

At Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, we, alongside other medical students, composed a call to action document in an effort to highlight opportunities to improve our curriculum and condemn the manifestations of structural and systemic racism in the United States. We recognize we cannot adequately live up to the oath we took upon entering the medical community and the standard we have held ourselves to without acknowledging racism as a public health crisis. In our call to action, we outline 8 core action items for our institution to work on implementing, including curriculum reform, more robust support for minority medical students enrolled at our institution, and the implementation of antiracism workshops. As medical students who will one day serve an ever-diversifying patient population, we emphasize that our course material must reflect contemporary race issues and increased efforts need to be made to ensure that minority populations are represented in our medical school curriculum.

Since publishing our call to action document, our institution’s administration has been receptive to implementing the proposed action items, and we have witnessed an overall increase in discussions at our institution surrounding inequality. We hope this initiative demonstrates the importance of activism in medicine and the role of doctors and medical students to affect change. We encourage other students to take this initiative at their own institutions and are hopeful for the future of medicine.


1. Hill E, Tiefenthäler A, Triebert C, Jordan D, Willis H, Stein R. How George Floyd was killed in police custody. New York Times. Updated November 5, 2020. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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