Lack of Diversity in Medical School Textbooks May Lead to Racial Bias in Medical Treatment

By Amanda Moises

According to researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, dark skin tones are underrepresented in medical school textbooks. After analyzing over 4,000 human images in four medical textbooks, the researchers discovered that there is little diversity, even in chapters where people with darker skin tones are more susceptible to certain diseases. For example, in Atlas of Human Anatomy, researchers found that fewer than 1% of photos in the textbook featured patients of darker skin.

This can cause huge problems in medical treatment because the rates of mortality for breast, skin, and other cancers are actually higher for black people, due to late diagnosis. For skin cancer in particular, physicians need to look for melanomas on patients’ hands, nails, and feet. However, there were no visuals in any medical textbook that explained how to do this for dark-skinned patients. This lack of diversity may contribute to misdiagnosis in dark-skinned patients if light skin tones continue to be shown as the norm. In order to avoid racial bias, physicians need to be able to recognize disease in patients with a variety of skin tones. These findings are significant and can be used to promote greater diversity of skin tones in medical education.


University of British Columbia. (2018, March 1). More diversity needed in medical school textbooks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2018 from