June 24, 2024

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Towards inclusive learning environments in post-graduate medical education: stakeholder-driven strategies in Dutch GP-specialty training | BMC Medical Education

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Participant characteristics

Table 1 presents participant characteristics for the stakeholder, co-reader, and management groups. In total, 31 stakeholders participated, aged 24 to 60, including eight males, 24 staff members from diverse organizational positions, seven trainees, and 12 ethnic minority participants.


The stakeholder group sessions had an attendance rate of 97%. All co-readers responded to the request for comments. During the hybrid management group session, 40% of participants attended in-person, while 60% joined online.

Stakeholder group sessions

In line with the topic list, we organized the results into two sections: [1]Exploring and [2] Strategy developing and preparing for implementation. In Sect. 2, the stakeholders aligned their results with the BET framework and structured them according to the Wensing & Grol framework.


The initial educational context

Stakeholders defined inclusiveness in the GP-specialty training as collective curiosity and support for trainees’ unique professional identities, regardless of their characteristics or backgrounds. As preconditions for in-faculty teachers, in-clinic supervisors, and staff, participants mentioned [1] willingness to encounter emotional discomfort [2], embracing failures in order to learn, and [3] acknowledgement of unconscious bias.

‘… we will not always succeed to be without prejudice, that is allowed as long as we will put the effort in gaining awareness’ (participant 2, group 1).

Participants emphasized creating a safe learning environment where all voices, including minority voices, can be heard. They suggested reflective questions starting with:

Could you imagine that…’.

Participants highlighted parallel processes whereby educators foster trainees’ personal and professional development, and GPs support patients’ individual coping styles. Such an inclusive and safe learning environment would act as a flywheel, enhancing the institute’s inclusive image and attracting prospective minority trainees, teachers, and in-clinic supervisors.

Co-readers confirmed these view points and they added their concerns regarding prioritization by some staff members:

‘I have nothing to add. I think it is essential that diversity is given a priority, that we as staff all agree that this is important. The pitfall is that some of them might not see the importance’. (co-reader 2)

Potential learning climate-related disparities

Stakeholders from ethnic minority groups expressed distress experiences in a dominant white world:

‘The GP-specialty training population is predominantly white and female; trainees, in-faculty teachers, and in-clinic supervisors even seem to resemble one another. Without them saying or acting, I continuously feel the stress of having to adapt to them, which I will never be able to’ (participant 2, group 1).

Stakeholders discussed the majority’s naivety in understanding the experience of belonging to a minority and expressed concerns about some DEI programs potentially leading to paradoxical stigmatization. They noted instances where in-faculty teachers appointed minority trainees as representatives for their cultural groups, ignoring the vast diversity within these groups. Also, participants reported stereotyping case reports:

‘They always use the example of the non-Dutch speaking overweight Moroccan mother of seven children, not engaged in any sports, who favors sweet and fatty food, and suffers from diabetes’ (participant 3, group 2).

Co-readers added that this one-sided picture made minority trainees uneasy, feeling discussed rather than equal partners in GP-training. Additionally, they emphasized that presenting DEI programs as non-mandatory, implied that diversity and inclusiveness were not necessarily integral to GP-skills requirements.

‘Mandatory inclusive training for mentors, staff, and teachers holds significant importance, signifying our commitment. Participation in these courses should be integrated into evaluations and annual interviews’. (co-reader 4)

Out-of-the-box wishes and key elements for an inclusive learning climate

Upon the invitation to make a wish:

‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….‘,

stakeholders wished for diverse staff as role models, willing to learn from each other, normalizing various meaningful insights, and embracing diverse worldviews:

‘By using these differences, we keep each other awake and open-minded in exploring possibilities; thus, we allow ourselves to grow without assuming that our paved path is always the best way at the time’ (participant 3, group 1).

Stakeholders indicated the institute’s responsibility to educate GP-trainees for a diverse patient population as an essential component of an inclusive learning environment. Key elements related to such inclusiveness were:

The GP-specialty training should represent society in all its diversity:

‘It’s been a few years since I started GP-specialty training, of course, but… I’m just digging whether I had a feeling of: “I fit in there” or: “I recognize my roots there”. These are important feelings to me to feel safe at my work- and study place’ (participant 7, group 1);

A diverse GP workforce meets patients’ appreciation for GPs they can identify with:

‘Regarding this cultural background or ethnicity, I have the impression that patients from ethnic minorities often liked that I obviously am not Dutch, they said, “oh, you are not Dutch, are you?“, it led to recognition, a little laugh, and connected us. Having a doctor just like them helped my patients to share their concerns.’ (participant 2, group 2);

GP-trainees need identifiable and diverse educational role models:

‘The moment you sit down together and see that diversity, …brings different working styles, learning styles, or communication styles… that you realize we have to do it together, the greater the diversity, the more we learn from one another, the higher we rise, the more fun and creative ideas…’ (participant 4, group 2);

Diverse GP-trainee cohorts improve mutual learning processes:

‘To me, utilizing diversity means that there’s always someone in the classroom who says, “Okay, so what if we look at it from that perspective or through those glasses?’ (participant 1, group 1).

Co-readers agreed and added that GP-specialty training already utilized diversity among in-faculty teachers to some extent:

‘Great idea! Diversity among teachers is already being leveraged to some extent. Trainees can synthesize a blend of styles and insights from different teachers and mentors. Expanding on this concept could help cultivate a more inclusive learning environment’. (co-reader 1)

Strategy developing and preparing for implementation

Recommendations for an inclusive GP-specialty training

Participants (stakeholders in collaboration with co-readers) made six fundamental recommendations and mapped these onto the BET framework levels to ensure all aspects of inclusive education would be covered [24] (Table 2).

Table 2 Stakeholders’ and co-readers’ recommendations related to Building Equity Taxonomy (BET) levels

Actionable strategies

From these recommendations, participants derived seven actionable strategies for promoting inclusive GP-specialty training (Table 3).

Table 3 Suggested actionable strategies
  1. 1.

    Provide a clear message of inclusiveness in all internal and external communications.

Participants explored various means and media platforms for promoting the GP-specialty training’s DEI core values (websites, ads, social media, podcasts), focusing on design, content, and appeal to the target group. They recommended involving trainees with media experience rather than exclusively hiring specialized communication consultants.

  1. 2.

    Appoint DEI ambassadors in all layers of the organization.

Participants suggested involving employees as DEI ambassadors to effectively spread DEI core values in the organization. Ambassadors would undergo comprehensive training in DEI, reflective skills, leadership, and change management. They would also attend conferences, masterclasses, join knowledge networks, and contribute to think tank initiatives as part of their preparation.

  1. 3.

    Facilitate procedures for secure incident reporting.

Participants highlighting the significant impact of unintentional discriminatory behavior, often resulting in experiencing barriers to reporting such incidents. They proposed implementing low-threshold and secure reporting procedures with targeted questions on DEI and (micro)aggression. Regular team sessions would enable open discussions based on anonymous reports, fostering inclusive education, uncovering organizational trends, and providing support for trainees who faced discrimination, microaggression, or exclusion. Confidential advisors would receive training in DEI, reflective skills, and relevant legislation.

  1. 4.

    Give a significant voice to minority trainees in ongoing program development.

Participants advised inviting minority trainees to round table discussions, fostering insider perspective exchange with mutual respect, critical reflection, and empathy. Including these diverse voices would promote resilience and professional growth and attract eligible trainees and staff from diverse backgrounds.

  1. 5.

    Assign more than one in-faculty teacher per group / in-clinic training.

GP-trainees – like all individuals – naturally mirror the behavior of significant others, such as teachers, in-clinic supervisors, or peers. Participants believed that trainees with multiple role models would outperform those with single role models. They suggested introducing dual in-faculty teachers and dual in-clinic supervisors as additional role models and an extra pair of eyes during education. To ensure success, participants recommended training programs for optimum role model utilization.

  1. 6.

    Offer ‘just-in-time’ learning.

Participants agreed that effective learning is closely related to immediate learning needs. For GP-trainees, such learning needs often arise from societal encounters in the consultation room, e.g., guiding Muslims during Ramadan while simultaneously managing diabetes or comprehending increasing PTSD symptoms around Keti Koti (Afro-Surinamese Emancipation Day). Timely incorporating these contextual factors into training programs could provide directly applicable knowledge.

  1. 7.

    Provide mandatory DEI relevant training programs for professional development.

Participants emphasized the necessity of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. They considered within-group differences valuable learning tools for diverse personal and professional development paths. Well-trained staff and trainees could drive inclusive knowledge networks, empower the organization, and positively influence external perceptions. Thus, they recommended mandatory and tailored training programs aligned with the anticipated learning needs from the suggested strategies. Where applicable, they advised considering outsourcing.

Conditions and requirements for implementation

Participants indicated the importance of in-faculty teachers, in-clinic supervisors, and staff having the courage to be vulnerable. They emphasized the essence of transparent norms and values and a welcoming learning environment, and they highlighted an attitude of:

‘… genuinely enjoying to support a diverse population in their growth towards their professional identities’ (participant 6, group 2).

‘Implementing these ideas demands courage and vulnerability, particularly as their execution could inadvertently carry stigmatizing effects’. (co-reader 6)

In this context, they mentioned the risk of unconscious bias, which could require external expert trainers at certain stages:

‘Well, you know, I had a trainee of Moroccan descent, and it shocked me that, while I always thought to be very open, diversity-minded, and curious for everything and everyone, I found it way more difficult to connect than I’d admit. I wonder what would have helped me unveil this blind spot in an earlier stage…’ (participant 5, group 1).

‘… allow and embrace the differences, see them as opportunities that actually add learning qualities, and not take them away? So, professionalism will become more colorful, and it can be viewed from different points of view, not just the traditional, established perspectives and routes’ (participant 1, group 1).

Ultimately, we provided the management group with implementation guidance for these seven strategies, along with an analysis of the target group and context, and summaries of relevant literature on DEI best practices in educational settings (Appendix). The management team agreed that enhancing DEI should have priority in Dutch GP-specialty training:

‘We should acknowledge that we are trailing behind societal advancements in diversity. Therefore, maintaining a strong focus on this topic must stay a priority’ (participant 5, management group).

Based on these comprehensive data, the management group prioritized strategies that covered the overarching recommendations and BET-levels (detailed in Table 3; Fig. 1), which aided in selecting strategies with anticipated effectiveness. To enhance alignment with the organizational requirements and feasibility, they considered implementation requirements, staff feedback from our presentations during periodic meetings, and opportunities for synergy with existing projects in other Amsterdam UMC departments.

‘We can see that literature describes these strategies as effective and we assume that stakeholders meticulously aligned them with the institute’s needs. Let us not repeat that process but rather look into strategies that can be implemented effectively in our setting’ (participant 1, management group).

‘For each suggested strategy, this guidance envisions its coverage and practical implications. Now, it is up to us to consider how far we are willing to commit. This process prompts pertinent questions on specific effective actions’ (participant 2, management group).

The management group prioritized three strategies:

  • Appoint DEI ambassadors in all organizational levels,

  • Give a significant voice to minority trainees in ongoing program development,

  • Provide mandatory DEI-relevant training programs for professional development to all involved in GP-specialty training.


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