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Interrupt the -Isms workshop at Heritage College presents strategies for dealing with discrimination in medicine

Theater and medicine came together to demonstrate ways to handle discrimination during the Interrupt the -Isms: Sex, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation workshop on Jan. 31 at Ohio University. The in-person workshop was attended by students and faculty from Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (HCOM) on all three campuses for the first time since before the pandemic.

To kick off the workshop, participants at all three campuses met virtually to introduce the topic of the evening. Each campus group then broke off and facilitators introduced participants to ways of handling issues of discrimination based on sex, gender identity or sexual orientation in the medical field. Students from the Ohio University School of Theater performed different scenarios at each campus involving discrimination, allowing the audience to discuss strategies for dealing with similar circumstances. The scenarios were presented again, with volunteers from the audience stepping into the roles to show how they would handle the situation.

The idea for the workshop was conceived in 2017, when a Heritage College clinician approached Sharon Casapulla, Ed.D., and said they witnessed a patient make racist remarks while a Black student was in the room with them. The clinician didn’t know what to do and was seeking further instruction and more training for future physicians. Casapulla thought it would be an opportunity to work with Ohio University’s School of Theater to create an interactive experience for the students.

Casapulla reached out to Merri Biechler, the director of the School of Theater, who wrote scenarios for the workshops. She told the audience that she didn’t need to look far for inspiration.

“Students came to me with their stories of experiencing microaggressions, experiencing racism, experiencing sexism, homophobia, transphobia,” Biechler said. “What you hear tonight has been experienced by classmates of yours.”

Kelly Davidson, assistant director of inclusion at the Heritage College, was one of the facilitators on the Athens campus. She encouraged the audience to speak their truth during the workshop and reminded them that they would be dealing with uncomfortable topics, but that it was okay.

“Bask in the discomfort, because that is how each of us grow,” Davidson said.

The first scenario involved two students on the first day of their new rotation with their preceptor. One student is a male, and one is a female. When the preceptor finds out the female is a mother of two, she begins asking multiple questions that could be considered intrusive for a first professional meeting, including asking about childcare, her support system, the children’s father, her marital status and even suggesting the student find a new place to live, as the area she lives in is not considered “safe.” The student is visibly uncomfortable and keeps stating that she has things handled.

The second scenario involved a preceptor and student in an examination room with a patient who goes by they/them pronouns. The preceptor misgenders the patient and asks about the patient's sexual history and insists that an HIV test is run, despite the patient being there for only stomach pain. The preceptor never explains their reasoning and ignores the patient who says that they and their partner are monogamous and have been tested in the past, so they did not want further testing.

After each scenario, the audience participated in group discussions about the scenario and how it would be handled based on some tools presented to them. Some of the tools included stating the facts of the situation by asking what the person meant by what they said or saying why that statement was concerning to them.

The concept of distraction was also taught. This is taking an indirect approach to de-escalate a situation by introducing something that distracts away from the moment and moving on. This can be used if confronting the situation does not feel safe at the moment.

Sean Diment, a first-year Heritage College student on the Athens campus, used the distraction method when he volunteered to reenact the first scenario. He posed as the male student who had witnessed the line of questioning to his classmate. Diment interrupted after the second question by acting as though he had a sudden pain in his eye. The conversation then focused on the pain rather than the preceptor’s questions.

Diment said he appreciated the workshop as it allowed him to reflect on how to handle uncomfortable situations and found the strategies presented to be helpful.

“It’s having those tools to do so (intervene) in a healthy way and then also being aware of HCOM’s resources to report those incidents,” Diment said.

Students were reminded of multiple resources at HCOM and Ohio University, including the Bias Reporting Tool, the Office of Inclusion and Counseling and Psychological Services.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways and the Office of Inclusion.

February 14, 2023
Staff reports