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Testing a Self-Affirmation Intervention for Improving the Psychosocial Health of Black and White Medical Students in the US

Perry SP, Wages JE III, Skinner-Dorkenoo AL, Burke SE, Hardeman RR, Phelan SM

Journal of Social Issues

Self-affirmation interventions have been shown to mitigate the negative psychological effects of stereotype threat on Black students in secondary and undergraduate education. However, there is currently limited research testing whether Black students in medical schools may also experience the negative influences of stereotype threat. Until now, it has been unclear whether Black (vs. White) students experience a lower sense of belonging in medical school and whether they can benefit from self-affirmation interventions during medical training. With a longitudinal field experiment, we tested (a) whether Black (vs. White) medical students in the US experience decrements in psychological well-being (i.e., fatigue, depression, anxiety), sense of belonging, perceived residency competitiveness, and residency goal stability; and (b) the extent to which a self-affirmation intervention would ameliorate any observed disparities in these outcomes for Black students. With a sample of 234 Black and 182 White medical students across 50 schools in the US, we found that Black students tended to report more fatigue and less belonging than White students; however, the self-affirmation intervention did not significantly influence students' fatigue, depression, anxiety, or belonging. Unexpectedly, Black students in the self-affirmation (vs. control) condition reported lower perceived competitiveness for residency. White students' perceived competitiveness for residency was unaffected by the intervention. Exploratory analyses revealed that Black (vs. White) students were less likely to indicate stable residency goals over time, which may be an indication of threat; however, this racial gap was eliminated with the intervention. We discuss the plausible reasons for these findings and provide recommendations for future work in this area.

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