From finding a vein to stitches; why diverse skin tones are important in medical training

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:
Students train on synthetic arms.

The reality that patients are not one-size-fits-all, is leading Florida Gulf Coast University to re-exam its diversity training for medical students.

Beyond book learning, future physician assistants are getting hands-on experience working with people of different races.

It makes perfect sense, but there was no way to get this kind of real-world experience until now.

Thanks to updated medical models, today’s students will be prepared to care for a diverse patient population – like the real world.

Without saying or doing a thing, a life-like medical simulator is changing the face of health care education.

Director for the Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program Robert Hawkes explains,
“When I was a student, all we had was one skin tone. Which tended to be kind of a white or kind of a yellow, based on the model and the coloring that was integrated into the system. But this is much more realistic.”

Getting real is extremely important to students in FGCU’s physician assistant program.

Agnes Fuerst is a P.A. student and said, “Actually, I was really surprised the first day I came in I was like wow, that looks like someone I know haha.”

Generations of medical professionals trained exclusively on pale-skinned models. Then a bulb went off, and manufacturers started producing darker, more realistic skin tones resembling real-world patients so that students could practice for real-world situations.

Another student, Keisha Poleon, added, “One amazing quality about our program is how much we emphasize diversity.”

The difference is more than superficial.

“Even something as simple as putting in an iv is significant when it’s on a darker complexion versus a lighter one,” Explained student Sabreen Youse, “So this is something closer to maybe my skin tone; it’s kind of like my mothers. And it’s kind of the same process. If it was a little bit lighter, it would be way more clear. So it would be completely blue. So the darker it is, you know, you kind of have to go more by the feel.”

Putting in stitches also takes practice. Sutures are often dark, making it difficult to see against dark skin.

Working with realistic skin tones is also important in detecting rashes and skin cancer exams.

And arming students with the proper training will help them graduate with greater competence and confidence.

Fuerst added, “If they have a darker skin tone, you just have to take a little extra time to make sure you’re hitting all the spots.”

“It’s really going to give the students a better, stronger background,” Hawkes said, “so that as professionals, they can take care of all people.”

FGCU purchased the new medical models at the start of the pandemic. They were manufactured by a company just up the road in Sarasota.

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