Wokeness And Medical Education

 The anti-Vietnam warriors of the 1960s and mid 1970s and their trainees are now the senior leadership in most institutions of higher learning. Their recruitment of younger faculty has reflected their activist leftist political orientation. This has resulted in the critical question of the true place of higher education in our society. Is the mission to develop graduates with a disciplined mind that can rigorously analyze a problem including its multiple subtleties OR to present points of view that would in their opinion improve society? The evidence is vast, as summarized by Lauren Cooley, “Multiple recent studies from well-respected institutions have identified overwhelming negative repercussions that come as a result of the liberal creep in academia” (Ref.1).  Not surprisingly this movement has also affected the thinking about the proper curriculum for medical schools. 
        On August 7, 2019, Brianna Abbott published, “Medical Schools Are Pushed to Train Doctors for Climate Change” –with the subtitle, “Movement backed by American Medical Association starts to grow, though content can be hard to fit into an already-packed curriculum” (Ref.2).
       Could living in an area adjacent to a forest fire that may be exacerbated by a hotter climate increase the incidence of asthma?  Certainly, but the physician needs to know how to diagnose and treat asthma. Should the medical school curriculum teach about climate change, the basic science, the proposed remedies, the correct place if any of nuclear power?  Not appropriate for post-graduate medical professional training.
      On September 12, 2019, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, former associate dean of curriculum at the Univ. of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine published an op-ed, “Take Two Aspirin and call Me by My Pronouns – At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness” (Ref.3)Dr. Goldfarb is arguing for a rigorous curriculum, one that prepares students for today’s rapidly advancing medical science and its application to individual patients in the most humane way possible. While knowing that medical school is a broad-based introduction to medicine, most of the skills of practice are learned in residency and/or fellowship. In contradistinction the social warriors are fighting to make physicians advocates for social and political issues. On September 15, 2019 the editors of the Wall Street Journal commented on the negative response on social media to Dr. Goldfarb’s op-ed and to the very woke reaction by the Dean and Senior Vice Dean of the U. Penn. Medical school, in their letter to students and faculty that the editors called, “a case study in progressive correctness” (Ref.4).
      In another op-ed published April 13, 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Goldfarb commented that medical school curricula have pretty much ignored public health and disaster preparedness while accrediting agencies demand more teaching on social issues (Ref.5).
      Should professional schools have in their curriculum a social agenda at the expense of time spent on furthering the student’s medical expertise? What is in societies’ best interest? These bright young men and women certainly have their own opinions on social issues, most likely explored during undergraduate education and are probably better informed than the average person.  However, it is in every patient’s best interest for the physician to be as knowledgeable and skilled as humanly possible while delivering care. Thus, the medical school curricula should concentrate on preparing the student to be as professionally competent as possible.   

1)   Lauren Cooley, Liberalism is rampant on campus and ruining academia, September 6, 2018, Washington Examiner, available at: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/red-alert-politics/liberalism-is-rampant-on-campus-and-ruining-academia   (Accessed April 24, 2021)
2)   Brianna Abbott, Medical Schools Are Pushed to Train Doctors for Climate Change, August 7, 2019, Wall Street Journal, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/medical-schools-are-pushed-to-train-doctors-for-climate-change-11565170205  (Accessed April 24, 2021)
3)   Stanley Goldfarb, Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by MY Pronouns, September 12, 2019, Wall Street Journal, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/take-two-aspirin-and-call-me-by-my-pronouns-11568325291  (Accessed April 25, 2021)
4)   The Editorial Board, Corrupting Medical Education – The Reaction to Dr. Goldfarb’s op-ed proves his point, September 15, 2019, Wall Street Journal, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/corrupting-medical-education-11568578153 (Accessed April 25, 2021)
5)   Stanley Goldfarb, Med School Needs an Overhaul, April 13, 2020, Wall Street Journal, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/med-school-needs-an-overhaul-11586818394  (Accessed April 27, 2021)

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