Power and language in medical education

Ashti Doobay-Persaud, Wivine Ngongo*, Stephen Whitfield, Lise Saffran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As medical educators, we aspire to teach the physicians of tomorrow the importance of considering a patient’s social, environmental, historical, and cultural context when caring for them. In this paper, we posit that the language we use to communicate concepts and to describe patients and communities can have profound implications. Linguistic forms such as labels, metaphors, and descriptors can lead to disparities in care and reinforce systemic and structural inequities. At the same time, medical educators are challenged by changing language and contexts. The mutability of language offers medical educators the chance to cultivate tolerance of ambiguity, curiosity, and attention to detail in their students. While offering examples of how language in medical education can perpetuate biases that affect patient care, this paper will emphasize how the practice of attention to language is itself critical (rather than provide a list of appropriate words).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-127
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of health care for the poor and underserved
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Cultural humility
  • Disparities
  • Equity
  • Implicit bias
  • Language
  • Medical education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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