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ICYMI: MEDiversity Week Town Hall & Inclusive Excellence Awards

MEDiversity Week 2022 was a resounding success. With presentations from international superstars like Dr. Evan Adams, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Indigenous Services Canada, and Professor Daniel Dawes, author of “The Political Determinants of Health” and Director of the Satcher Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. With celebrities like these, it is hard to focus on the other events of the week. But there are two that we would like to highlight today.

The first is the town hall. Traditionally, the MEDiversity Town Hall is designed for the leaders in health sciences to directly address issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion. In the past, it has been a question-and-answer session with Dr. Michael Good, but this year we tried something a little different. We had the privilege of not only having Dr. Good, but Vice President for EDI Mary Ann Villarreal; Dr. Sach Apte, Physician in Chief, Hunstman Cancer Hospital; Dr Valerie Flattes, Associate Dean for EDI, College of Nursing; Donna Baluchi, EDI Librarian at the Eccles Health Sciences Library; Dr. Julie Lucero, Associate Dean for EDI, College of Health; and Dr. Bart Watts, Associate Dean for EDI, School of Dentistry. It was my pleasure to moderate the session. And different from other years, we asked registrants to send in questions, and the panelists prepared and answered the questions at the town hall. The resulting discussion was remarkable.

Due to the sensitive nature of the questions, the town hall was not recorded. Some of the questions, with a review of the discussion, are found here:

What do you currently see as the top priority to make all of the U (including U of U Health) a more equitable and safer environment for all?

Dr. Good led off the discussion talking about recent searches for chairs and for deans, and he mentioned that the diversity of the candidate pool, as well as the diversity of the recent hires in leadership has been slowly but steadily increasing. He talked also about how there remains more work to be done, and that he will be continuing to work on increasing the diversity of his leadership teams. Other panelists reminded us that to make the U more equitable, it will require the efforts of every single one of us. In addition to ensuring that the leadership teams are more diverse, specific efforts surrounding retention were discussed, with the panelists agreeing that first we need to retain quality employees, and then we need to recruit. Panelists also spoke of how our first priority is our patients, and helping them to achieve excellent health outcomes will require significant changes to who we hire.

Where do you think the University of Utah Health needs to improve as it relates to EDI?

Panelists spoke of how the University of Utah Health has an obligation to our patients, and how health inequities need to be the focus of our work. They also recognized that part of the solution was to increase the diversity of the people providing the services. This, along with capitalizing on an existing diverse workforce, panelists felt that pathway programs for employees could go a long way towards increasing the diversity of the healthcare provider pool.

What is the University doing/planning to do to lessen the gap in health outcomes for patients from vulnerable populations vs. those in less vulnerable populations outside of building resources closer to those vulnerable populations like the West Valley project?

The West Valley project has taken considerable focus and resources, but it is a part of what we are doing to lessen the burden of health inequities. This year, a cohesive data strategy is being developed to identify where the gaps are. While we know from national data that disparities exist in our system, closer analysis of the data will help guide the interventions that can mitigate disparities. We will start as a system with the data on quality that already exists. We will identify inequities and focus our efforts to eliminate them.

How can U of U Health prepare future students and professionals reflect growing diversity?

The best way to prepare students and professionals to care for a more diverse population is to put practices and policies in place to ensure that the diversity of health science students is similar to the applicant pool. For decades, our institution has tried to have “population parity” with the Utah population when it comes to race ethnicity and binary gender. That strategy will not produce the diversity necessary in a medical school, a dental school, or other health profession school to adequately prepare students for the diversity they will see in their patient population, even if they never leave the state of Utah. The schools of dentistry and medicine have made great strides in this area, but both are quick to admit that more remains to be done.

Dr. Rodríguez stated that he learned more about caring for Puerto Rican patients from his Puerto Rican medical school colleagues than from anywhere else. There is something about the shared traumatic experience of medical school that changes how you see your colleagues. And that change in vision is what is necessary to change the health inequities that currently exist.

Later that day, we had a celebration of the Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awardees. In the past, there were five awards, and they were all individual awards. Because we recognize that EDI is a team effort, this year we widened the categories and created multiple team awards. The awardees were from the U of U community and the community at large. And we were able to celebrate with them as they received their awards.

We would like to remind everyone of this years honorees:

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Community Partner
Wasatch Community Gardens

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Equity Transformation
Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine Office of Admissions

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Faculty
Paul Sigala, Ph.D. Assistant Professor & Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Department of Biochemistry

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Research
Gita Suneja, M.D. M.S.P.H. Associate Professor & Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Department of Radiation Oncology

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Staff (Individual)
Kimberly Killam, Operational Project Manager II Operational Project Management Office

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Staff (Group)
Redwood Health Center

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Student
Diversity and Science Lecture Series University of Utah Chapter

Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Awards: Trainee
Stuti Das, M.D. M.Sc., Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow & Child Abuse Fellow Department of Pediatrics

At University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we are pleased that we have the privilege to give these awards. But more importantly, we are delighted that there are so many among us whose passion for equity, and whose vision for the best University of Utah Health possible, who work daily for the benefit of our patients and each other. We salute you, and honor your work.

José E. Rodríguez

Dec 13, 2022 8:12 AM