During a recent Chats for Change on Monday, October 19, close to 40 students, staff, and faculty gathered from across the health system and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to discuss how racism, assimilation, and professionalism operate in medicine and science. This was the first Chats for Change co-hosted by Student Council and the Racism and Bias Initiative.


To provide a common framework for discussion, the following definitions were provided to participants. While there aren’t “right” definitions, we hoped to at least provide a starting point for further conversations. After presenting each definition, the participants were encouraged to use slido to answer questions on how racism influences science and medicine and define for themselves what professionalism and assimilation means. 


(1) “A belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. (2) The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.” —Merriam Webster.


(1) “The conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession.” – Merriam Webster; (2) “…the set of standards concerning appearance, character, values, and behavior that mark employees as competent, appropriate, effective, ethical, and respected/respectful.” – Mark D. Davis, Master’s Thesis; (3) “A belief system about how best to organize and deliver health care, which calls on group members to jointly declare (“profess”) what the public and individual patients can expect regarding shared competency standards and ethical values, and to implement trustworthy means to ensure that all medical professionals live up to these promises.” —American Board of Medical Specialities.




(1) “to absorb into the cultural tradition of a population or group.” – Merriam Webster; (2) “…to accept the new culture wholeheartedly, even to the extent of minimizing or rejecting their culture of origin; this is termed an assimilation strategy” – Knapp et al., “The Dark Side of Professional Ethics”; (3) “Assimilationist: one who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.”—Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.  




After providing these common definitions, participants then broke out into small group rooms where they discussed the following questions:


  • What are the attributes of professionalism in academic medicine and science?
  • What skills are valued in professionalism, and who decides this?
  • Is the concept of professionalism exclusionary?
  • Are there short or long-term consequences to assimilation? 


After coming back to the larger group, participants were able to share out some of their conversations during the small group sessions. Some people shared how they’ve seen professionalism benefit white men and hold back women and BIPOC; from elitist language to physical appearance being qualifiers. There was also a fruitful conversation about whether the concept of professionalism would always be inherently biased and how we could reframe the definition to be more inclusive. Others reflected on the culture at Mount Sinai and ways in which they’ve found it to be more welcoming than other institutions. 

As with every Chats for Change, the session ended with an opportunity for folks to share what they needed to learn and unlearn. While the responses to this prompt varied, it was clear that giving folks the space to reflect on these aspects of academic medicine and science that are rarely discussed helped spur reflection.

Student Council was grateful to have the opportunity to partner with RBI on this Chats for Change and looks forward to hosting another one soon. You can read more about Student Council’s work on racial equity here.