The hidden curriculum and unconscious bias

An overarching theme of the Liberating the Curriculum (LTC) initiative is to question “the hidden curriculum” and “unconscious bias” and tackle these issues head on to create a more diverse and inclusive curriculum.

As Dr Lokugamage goes onto introduce us to these topics in the videos below, the hidden curriculum can be thought of as the informal lessons of particular ideas, values and attitudes, usually unintentionally taught to us throughout our education.

The problem with the hidden curriculum is that it can sometimes lead to unconscious bias – automatic judgments made by us, outside our conscious thought and rationale.

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The Hidden Curriculum.

It can be quite difficult to tackle the issue of unconscious bias quite simply because by definition we might not even be aware we hold these biases. However, at LTC we’re trying to go back to the curriculum and identify shortcomings so that we can tackle the issues from the root.

In a previous video Dr Cartledge spoke of how medicine is often taught with the white male as the default. This may be due to trying to simplify matters for students however it can have downstream consequences. During my recent Emergency Department placement we were warned of how females tend to present more commonly than men with “atypical” symptoms of heart attacks. On further questioning it became apparent that this is probably due to the majority of clinical research and teaching at medical school focusing on the presentation in men, with anything deviating from it to be labeled as “atypical”.

The interesting and worrying reality is that by categorising these as “atypical” presentations, it can sometimes lead to a delay or complete absence of recognition of this life threatening condition in women. This acts as a stark reminder that the way we are taught topics in medical school can have serious implications for us in medical practice and how we meet our patients’ needs.

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Unconscious Bias

So ultimately why is LTC important? Well by tackling these underlying biases and creating a more inclusive curriculum it can help as reach our goal to be “The UCL Doctor” – “A socially responsible professional who, in turn, can serve the health needs of individuals and communities.”

By Mahesh Pillai with contributions from Maihma Lamba and Gemma Wells


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