Editors-in-chief at 10 leading family medicine journals have banded together to address systemic racism in research, healthcare, and the medical profession.
Sumi Sexton, MD, editor-in-chief of American Family Physician (AFP), told Medscape Medical News she had been working on changes at her journal that would answer the need for action that was made clear by this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and realized the issue was much bigger than one journal. She proposed the collaboration with the other editors.
The editors wrote a joint statement explaining what they plan to do collectively. It was published online October 15 ahead of print and will be published in all 10 journals at the beginning of the year.
Following the action by family medicine editors, the American College of Physicians issued a statement expressing commitment to being an antiracist organization. It calls on all doctors to speak out against hate and discrimination and to act against institutional and systemic racism. The statement also apologizes for the organization’s own past actions: “ACP acknowledges and regrets its own historical organizational injustices and inequities, and past racism, discrimination and exclusionary practices throughout its history, whether intentional or unintentional, by act or omission.”
Family Medicine Journals Plan Changes
Changes will differ at each family medicine publication, according to Sexton and other interviewees. Some specific changes at AFP, for example, include creating a medical editor role dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that content is not only accurate but also that more content addresses racism, Sexton said.
AFP is creating a Web page dedicated to diversity and will now capitalize the word “Black” in racial and cultural references. Recent calls for papers have included emphasis on finding authors from underrepresented groups and on mentoring new authors.
“We really need to enable our colleagues,” Sexton said.
The journals are also pooling their published research on topics of racism and inclusion and have established a joint bibliography.
The steps are important, Sexton said, because reform in research will start a “cascade of action” that will result in better patient care.
“Our mission is to care for the individual as a whole person,” Sexton said. “This is part of that mission.”
Increasing Diversity on Editorial Boards
Family physician Kameron Leigh Matthews, MD, chief medical officer for the Veterans Health Administration in Washington, DC, praised the journals’ plan.
She noted that the groups are addressing diversity on their editorial boards as well as evaluating content.
Effective change must also happen regarding the people reviewing the content, she told Medscape Medical News. “It has to be both.
“I’m very proud as a family physician that our editors came together and are giving the right response. It’s not enough to say we stand against racism. They’re actually offering concrete actions that they will take as editors and that will influence healthcare,” she said.
Matthews pointed to an example of what can happen when the editorial process fails and racism is introduced in research.