PhD student Patricia Louie discusses her research on representations of race and skin colour in radio and print media

Patricia LouiePatricia Louie recently spoke with the media about the findings of her research into the representation of race and skin colour in medical text books. Her recently published article (with Professor Rima Wilkes of UBC) demonstrates that prominent medical textbooks use very few images of  individuals with dark skin tones in their medical illustrations. This lack of representation, Louie and Wilkes argue, could result in a failure to diagnose conditions like skin cancer on people with dark skin tones. Louie is currently in her second year of PhD studies at the University of Toronto.

Louie spoke about the study on the Global News show, Simi Sara Show available here,  and on CBC’s Here and Now, available here.

Her study has also been featured in the print and online media by The Vancouver Sun, The National Post, Toronto’s CityNews, Science Daily, News1130, Global News, CTV News and the Toronto Star. We have included an excerpt of the Canadian Press article below.

Lack of racial diversity in medical textbooks could mean inequity in care: study

VANCOUVER—Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in Vancouver, Patricia Louie saw posters that only featured white and light skin-toned people depicted as patients. She wondered if medical textbooks would also reflect what she considered to be a biased portrayal of Canada’s diverse population.

The experience in 2012 led the sociology student who was studying at the University of British Columbia (UBC) at the time to analyze faces in four textbooks widely used in North American medical schools. She concluded in an honours thesis that racial diversity was being ignored.

Most images in medical books are of legs, arms and chests, showing only skin tone, not ethnicity, so Louie broadened her research as a master’s student at the University of Toronto and focused on skin tone in more than 4,000 images in later versions of the same textbooks.

The study by Louie and co-author Rima Wilkes, a sociology professor at UBC, found the proportion of dark skin tones represented was very small in images featured in Atlas of Human Anatomy, Bates’ Guide to Physical Examinations and History Taking, Clinically Oriented Anatomy and Gray’s Anatomy for Students.

Atlas had fewer than 1 per cent of photos featuring dark skin, while the highest amount — 5 per cent — was included in Gray’s, the researchers say in the study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Imagery of six common cancers for people of colour or dark skin tone hardly exist in the textbooks, says the study, which suggests unequal health care could result.

Read the full article as it appeared in the National Post.

Patricia Louie can be reached at