Guest Blog: Two Illinois Psychiatry Residents Create and Lead Class on Social Justice

*This piece is edited from an original article published in the Spring 2021 IPS Mind Matters publication.

In an effort to support mental health and initiatives led by the psychiatric community, PRMS is pleased to feature the following edited piece by Dr. Lala Park, Editor of the Illinois Psychiatric Society Mind Matters publication. Dr. Park highlights the work two psychiatric residents are doing to improve social justice and offer a safe forum to discuss racism through the “Social Justice in Medicine and Psychiatry” course at the University of Chicago, offered in 2020 by Drs. Gabrielle Forestier and Amber Bard.

I am proud to present two courageous, passionate resident physicians who led their peers in learning and talking about social justice and racism. These are essential topics in our curriculum. Dr. Gabrielle Forestier and Dr. Amber Bard are third-year psychiatry residents at the University of Chicago. In August 2020, the pair started a 4-part series class called “Social Justice in Medicine and Psychiatry” (hereafter referred to as “Series”).

The goal of the class was to uncover structural and interpersonal racism and bias in medicine and psychiatry. This is important because racial discrimination and bias “inform our diagnosis, treatment process and therapeutic interactions with our patients,” says Dr. Forestier. The Series started with a presentation on the history of racism in psychiatry, which turned into a discussion of race in the South Side Chicago, where the University of Chicago Medical Center is located. The Series concluded in November 2020 with discussions in trans-racial therapy in different settings, including inpatient, ED, and outpatient.

The pair’s motivations to create the Series trace back to their intern year. “Being a white physician, the dynamic between myself and a Black patient is something I wanted to explore more deeply,” says Dr. Bard, “especially when we as psychiatrists have the power to commit our patients involuntarily.” Dr. Forestier states that, as a Black physician, she witnessed how Black culture was becoming pathologized.

Through the Series, Drs. Forestier and Bard offered opportunities for their peers to be vulnerable and open with one another, but being the first of its kind during the pandemic, the Series was not without challenges. According to Dr. Bard, the Zoom environment at times prevented spontaneous, free-flowing conversations from taking place. The first class was conducted in a traditional lecture-style with the pair presenting PowerPoint slides; this was not what Drs. Bard and Forestier had in mind. They desired more participation from their peers. Unafraid to start a conversation, they shared their concerns with their peers, who were receptive, and the class quickly adopted a group discussion style. Peers note the Series spotlighted racism, which [they felt] has been neglected and ignored in medicine and psychiatry for too long. Dr. Russell, a PGY-4, states that the Series allowed him to explore his white fragility in a safe environment. Dr. Lavie, a PGY-2, applauds that the Series opened up a discussion on racism within our nation and our institution. Another PGY-2, Dr. Eng, notes that the class allowed discussions about both explicit and implicit racism on multiple levels – individual, interpersonal, and structural.

Dr. Rosas, a PGY-2, appreciates her peers’ efforts to create a space and time to discuss racism, a topic that is difficult to discuss sometimes. Drs. Forestier and Bard believe racism and social justice are essential yet marginalized topics in psychiatric training, but in regards to developing and providing training in such topics, there is often a lack of resources. Both Dr. Bard and Dr. Forestier share that developing the Series took a significant amount of their time and work while also fulfilling their usual duties and obligations as residents. They hope that social justice will become a fundamental part of psychiatric residency curriculum, just as courses in psychopathology and psychopharmacology are.

Please visit the IPS website here to read the full piece by Dr. Park and to review the full publication.

 

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