Of the 31 portraits of famous doctors that adorn the walls of the Louis Bornstein Family Amphitheater at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital — 30 are of white men. The other portrait is of an Asian male doctor, the Boston Globe reported.
But that's apparently too many men — particularly white men — in one prestigious location.
Therefore all 31 portraits — some of which have hung in the amphitheater for decades — will be removed and rehung in scattered spots around the hospital, the Globe reported.
The hospital announced the decision Thursday as part of its broader diversity initiatives, the paper said.
More from the Globe:
The hospital's president, Dr. Betsy Nabel, said she had considered ending the tradition of hanging pictures of retired chairs in the auditorium for several years, especially as more women and minorities train as doctors at the hospital. Of 1,631 residents and fellows training at the Brigham, 45 percent are women and 9 percent are black or Hispanic. Asians make up 28 percent of trainees; they are not considered an underrepresented minority in medicine.
"I have watched the faces of individuals as they have come into Bornstein," Nabel told the paper. "I have watched them look at the walls. I read on their faces, 'Interesting. but I am not represented here.' That got me thinking maybe it's time that we think about respecting our past in a different way."
What did one student have to say?
The portraits are among the first impressions for interns and residents at Brigham and Women's, the paper said, adding that residents had been talking with each other for several years about moving the portraits.
Titilayo Afolabi — a Nigerian-American and first-year medical student — told the Globe she "definitely noticed" the portraits last August but wasn't surprised.
"They mirror the other images around the school and other universities," Afolabi told the paper. "I almost expected to see that."
But she added to the Globe that "it's easy to remove people from the wall. It's more difficult putting people of color in power."
'It reinforces that white men are in charge'
Dr. Jeroan Allison, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told the paper that when such portraits are hung so close together in one room, "it reinforces that white men are in charge."
Instead Allison told the Globe that historical portraits should be hung within a broader context that includes modern contributions from more diverse leaders.
More from the paper:
The national activist group White Coats for Black Lives recently published a racial justice report card that criticized 10 top medical schools, including Harvard’s, for policies it says promote racial bias. Among the policies the group flagged are the dearth of plaques, statues, portraits, and building names on campuses that acknowledge contributions from physicians of color — and the presence of artwork that celebrates people with racist pasts.
Medical School Dean George Q. Daley has appointed a committee to recommend changes to artwork on campus, though a spokeswoman would not say when the group's work will be completed.
"It is vitally important to know that the lack of diversity seen in art at HMS reflects the school’s past, not its present," Gina Vild, the spokeswoman, told the Globe in an email. "Change is coming."
How did two doctors who have portraits react to the news?
"It is OK with me," Dr. Michael Zinner, surgery chief from 1994 to 2016, told the paper. Zinner's portrait — which took about a year to paint — was hung in the amphitheater just last month.
Dr. Michael Gimbrone, pathology chair from 2001 to 2012, told the Globe that the hospital should be welcoming to those of all races and genders — and quoted Bob Dylan: "The times they are a-changin.'"
What other doctors are represented on portraits?
Dr. Harvey Cushing — who invented many brain surgery techniques and worked as the Brigham’s chief surgeon from 1912 to 1932 — was among the first doctors to get a portrait, the paper said.
Portraits of two other doctors also from the early 20th century — Dr. Henry Christian and Dr. William Councilman — will be displayed along with Cushing's in the entrance to the new Hale Building for Transformative Medicine, the Globe reported.
(H/T: The College Fix)