Intergroup Relations

Clip art of health symbol

by Nicole Rixen, IGR Graduate Intern

When many people think about IGR, they immediately think about social justice. While it is true that IGR provokes us to think about social justice both on and off campus, I feel IGR provides so much beyond just understanding social justice. For example, when I talk with students, they tell me about all the skills and tools that they have gained and can use throughout their careers and lives.

For example, focusing on the medical field, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) has changed its exam layout recently to focus on social and behavioral sciences as well as critical analysis skills. The recent exam introduction states:

[The] Social and behavioral sciences section recognizes the importance of socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health and health outcomes (MCAT, 2015).

In 2014, a study exploring matters of race through intergroup dialogue at the University of Michigan Medical School was published. Results showed that physicians in training having difficult conversations that lead to understanding, accepting, and moving beyond biases, can contribute to reducing some disparities in health care (Bakke et. Al, 2014).

The American Medical Association Code of Ethics states:

Failure to probe deeper and lack of personal insight inadvertently contributes to racial health disparities (SMDEP, 2015).

IGR dialogue fosters reflection, critical awareness, relationship building, autonomy, and empowerment. These, in turn, can produce multiculturally competent and socially responsible physicians. By learning to have difficult conversations, physicians increase their abilities in such a way that leads to understanding, accepting, and moving beyond biases (and ultimately can contribute to reducing some disparities in health care). 

IGR focuses on creating those environments of change. Incorporating ideas of critical reflection and understanding of self, others, and the world into the health profession. This creates a balanced and integrated understanding of bias and privilege, and it ultimately strengthens a physician's impact when caring for patients.

Although when we think of IGR, learning about social justice might be the first thing that comes to mind, IGR is about so much more. And,having IGR skills can open the door to so much more both within and outside of healthcare fields.

As the American Medical Association states:

By weaving together a diverse and culturally responsive pool of physicians working collaboratively with other health care professionals, access and quality of care can continue to improve throughout the nation.



Bakke, K., Sidhar, K. & Kumagai, A. K. (2014). Exploring matters of race through dialogue in the University of Michigan medical school’s longitudinal case studies program. American Medical Association, 16(6), 442-449

How will the new MCAT exam better prepare doctors? (2015). Medical College Admission Test. Association of American Medical Colleges.

SMDEP. (2015). Section 1: Cultivating a health care workforce that increases access to and quality of care. Association of American Medical Colleges. Retrieved from