UIC department of medicine participates in bias reduction study

The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine’s department of medicine is participating in a unique study that will test the efficacy of a program designed to help faculty members recognize and reduce biased behavior.

The program, called BRIM for Bias Reduction in Internal Medicine, was developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its aim is to help make participants aware of biases and cultural stereotypes they may subscribe to, even if they do so unconsciously.

“Nobody thinks that their thoughts or actions are based on internalized stereotypes or biases, but the truth is that these ideas can be so ingrained that even the most sensitive person can be influenced by them in their behavior at work, towards colleagues or towards students,” said Dr. Patricia Finn, the Earl M. Bane Professor of Medicine and head of the department of medicine at UIC. “BRIM has been shown in early trials to be effective at helping faculty recognize and reduce that biased behavior. I knew immediately after I saw those results presented at a conference that I wanted our department of medicine to participate in the further evaluation of the program.”

The UIC department of medicine is the first to sign up to participate in a larger, nationwide study of the BRIM program, which was developed by Dr. Molly Carnes, professor of medicine, psychiatry and industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues at Madison. Carnes says the ongoing study includes 15 departments of medicine and will last approximately two years at each institution.

Providing a good departmental climate through reducing race, gender and other biases can help increase faculty retention, explained Carnes. “The average cost of losing a faculty member exceeds $400,000, so climate is also important on a cost-basis,” said Carnes. “Women who work in more supportive climates also have lower levels of work/family conflict, even if they work up to 70 hours per week.”

“UI Health — our health enterprise comprised of UIC’s seven health science colleges and the University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics — is dedicated to advancing health equity for all. That commitment is rooted in a faculty and staff who are aware of and can recognize biases and inequities they themselves might hold,” said Dr. Robert Barish, vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Engaging in the BRIM program is one way that we can foster this mission in our interactions with our fellow faculty, staff, patients and students.”

Professional interactions, performance evaluations and hiring decisions can also be inadvertently influenced by opinions people hold about others based on who they are, where they’re from or the language they speak without getting to know the individual, Carnes explained. Race, gender, age, sexual preference and even weight can play into these biases. As a result, some people and groups experience a more positive and supportive work environment than faculty or individuals of other groups.

At the heart of the BRIM program is a three-hour workshop titled, “Breaking the Bias Habit: Bias Reduction in Internal Medicine.” Carnes and colleagues designed the program to help participants recognize their own biased behaviors, and provide strategies for reducing those behaviors.

Some of the strategies include perspective taking — or putting oneself in another’s shoes, and stereotype replacement, where a stereotypical perception is questioned and replaced with real information based on an individual.

In the ongoing BRIM study, half of the UIC department of medicine’s faculty and staff will receive the BRIM program delivered by its developers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The other half will receive BRIM training from their UIC colleagues, known as “BRIM implementers,” who have been identified and trained by the Madison researchers. Participants will complete a survey before BRIM starts on the climate of the department and the respondent’s feelings about the value of the BRIM program and expectations.

Three months after the workshop is delivered, participants in both groups will complete a follow-up survey asking again about the climate of the department, their feelings about BRIM and if they have noticed changes in their own behavior that resulted from BRIM.

“Our program looks at biases as habits, and these habits, like any others, can be changed by increasing awareness and supporting self-efficacy in the practice of evidence-based strategies like those presented through BRIM,” Finn said. “While this program focuses on faculty, we look forward to using these skills and tools in training the next generation of physicians.”

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