Washington state bill requiring health equity training for med-students scheduled for executive session

A Senate bill that aims to address disproportionate health outcomes by building a foundation of equity in medical training is scheduled for executive session in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. 


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SB 5228, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall, would require public medical schools to develop a health equity curriculum for medical students and would require the school to create a goal regarding student representation. The schools would have to report progress on the goal annually. 

The two public medical schools named in the bill are the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Washington State University College of Medicine.

The bill would also require students to complete a course, or courses, on health equity before they can graduate. The course topics on health equity may include implicit bias training, intercultural communication skills training, historical examples of medical and public health racism and how racism can manifest itself, among many other topics.

Randall said she has been thinking about this policy since her first session, but the current public health crisis has brought the issue of health equity to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“I have watched some members of our community die from the coronavirus and others get the care that they needed. I had a personal experience, one of my college classmates, a black woman who tried to get treatment for COVID-19 and was unsuccessful advocating for herself because her doctors told her it was probably asthma, or she was probably overweight and she probably didn’t need as much care as she was asking for. And she died last spring at the age of 30.”

Randall went on to say that her classmate’s story is not unique. People of color often have disproportionate health outcomes due to medical negligence. Ten different studies from the University of Michigan show that people of color suffer from disparities from everything from colon cancer mortality rates to higher medical expenses.

The only agency to testify against the bill in its current form was the Family Policy Institute of Washington. Sarah Davenport-Smith, a spokesperson for the Institute, said it seems like the intent of the bill is to create better medical outcomes solely based on skin color, and called the bill a surface solution.

“In looking at Section 3 and in response to Senator Randall’s opening statements about her bill, it seems like the intent of the bill is saying that better medical outcomes are solely based on the skin color or ethnicity of the care providers. And we all know, and I think especially medical doctors know that health outcomes rely on so much more than just [skin color]. So we’re concerned that this is looking at a very surface level solution to a problem that goes much deeper. And we question, how will you know when the overall goal is met?”

The deadline for bills to pass out of committee in the opposite chamber is Friday. This bill is scheduled for Executive Session on Thursday at 3:30 pm ahead of the cutoff.