Equity in visual representation of vulvar conditions in major gynecology textbooks

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Journal of the National Medical Association


OBJECTIVES: To evaluate images of vulvar conditions (VCs) in major gynecologic textbooks and describe the skin tone representation. METHODS: Images of VCs in gynecological textbooks for medical students, obstetrics and gynecology (OBG) residents, and fellows were compiled. Texts were categorized into education levels (medical student, resident, or fellow) and selected based on the recommendations of OBG attendings and fellows at LSUHSCNew Orleans. Skin tones were scored according to the Fitzpatrick Scale (FS) and categorized as benign, infectious, inflammatory, and dysplasia/cancerous. Publishing and primary author demographics were collected. Proportional odds regression (POR) predicted FS based on image pathologies and book titles. RESULTS: Of 512 images selected from 21 textbooks, 77.0% [N = 395] were lighter skin tones (FS I-III). VCs were represented by the darkest skin tone (FS of VI) in 19.6% of images in texts targeting residents, compared to 8.5% and 4.5% in fellow and student textbooks, respectively (p <0.001). Compared to a cornerstone surgical atlas, the pediatric and adolescent gynecology text consisted of lighter skin tones. A prominent general gynecology text used darker skin tones. Images of infectious conditions were more likely to be darker skin tones than other VCs (p = 0.010). CONCLUSIONS: Most textbook images of VCs represent lighter skin tones, and women with darker skin are more underrepresented in texts geared at fellows and students. Inadequate exposure to the appearance of VCs on darker skin promotes and propagates racial inequities in healthcare. Medical textbooks should present visually diverse images of vulvar pathologies to train physicians to be well versed in caring for patients of all skin tones.

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