2020 Peter Sowerby Essay Contest Winner

The Sowerby Philosophy of Medicine Project is pleased to announce that the 2020 Annual Peter Sowerby Essay Contest has been awarded to Kate Fisk (UCL). The topic this year was ‘Bias in Clinical Medicine: Can it be overcome?’ 

It is well established that biases affect human behaviour and decision making in a wide range of contexts. Clinical medicine is no exception. Implicit bias among clinical decision makers can adversely impact treatment response for patients from historically marginalised groups. Structural biases and health inequities may have even more insidious effects. Can medical research and medical practice rise to overcome the unjust impacts of bias? If so, what action is needed? Is it always desirable to overcome bias or are some types of ‘stereotyping’ and generalisation necessary for effective clinical decision making? How do technological changes, such as increased reliance on AI, bear upon these issues? 

Kate’s essay, entitled ‘Bias in clinical medicine: Can it be overcome?’, approached this topic by considering the discrepancies in care that patients receive for pain in western healthcare systems. She argued that different kinds of biases may be more or less resistant to being effectively mitigated. Members of the judging panel had this to say about Kate’s winning essay:  

“This thoughtful and well-written essay draws a novel and useful distinction between epistemic and essentialising bias and advances a persuasive argument that they must be treated differently in medicine.”

“An excellent essay with clarity, concision and a confident philosophical voice.” 

“This elegantly written essay offered a penetrating analysis of the dangers of bias in medicine.” 

Kate is a final year Philosophy MPhil student at University College London. Her research focuses on the dismissal of women’s pain by medical professionals in western healthcare systems, and she employs the tools of feminist social epistemology and feminist philosophy of language in her analysis of these issues. Kate also has a wider interest in moral psychology and legal philosophy. Kate had this to say about receiving the award this year:  

“I am delighted to have received the Sowerby Essay Prize! I would like to thank the judging panel for their time in running the competition and for their kind feedback on my work. The question of how we can overcome bias in clinical medicine is incredibly important, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to further explore this urgent problem alongside my MPhil research.” 

Congratulations to Kate!