June 04, 2015

Diversity and inclusion is the key to excellence

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The active pursuit of excellence through diversity and inclusion is far more than an abstract concept; it is a practice which transcends ideological and interpersonal boundaries. It is a goal, and also a process – a destination, and a journey. It is the means by which the UAB School of Medicine will achieve unprecedented success as we serve, educate and empower the medical professionals of the present and future. Simply put, it is not possible for the School of Medicine to fulfill its mission without embracing a comprehensive, systemic approach to diversity and inclusion.

When Dean Selwyn Vickers named me as the inaugural Senior Associate Dean of the newly-created Office for Diversity & Inclusion in April 2014, he made it clear that this office was a critical component to the overall strategic plan of the School of Medicine. Our first task would be to create a resilient and strategic infrastructure within the School of Medicine based around diversity and inclusion.  This infrastructure would enable us to enact specific, multi-level initiatives to recruit and retain diverse students, trainees and faculty.

In the last 14 months, we have built this infrastructure, which allows us to begin implementation of both broad-based and targeted programs which will ensure that the School of Medicine is an inclusive environment for all. We’ve created an Advisory Board Council representing School of Medicine leadership to offer insight, direction and momentum; we have also assembled a Diversity Liaisons Group with a representative from each department. This Liaisons Group brings a wide range of voices to the table, which allows the Office for Diversity & Inclusion both to acknowledge and facilitate successes in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Evelyn Jones has been essential to the development of this infrastructure. She joined the Office of Diversity & Inclusion in fall 2014, and brings years of managerial and administrative expertise and work in the fields of health care and diversity and inclusion to this new initiative.

Strategic plans for diversity and inclusion are currently under development in each department of the School of Medicine. These strategic plans will catalyze the intentional grassroots development of diversity in a more diverse and organic way, while at the same time endeavoring to meet concrete benchmarks and metrics for success. In addition, the 2015-2016 academic year will see the initiation of a number of diversity programs. These will include seminars, workshops and symposia; the celebration of a “Women in Medicine” Day; a reception honoring women who are promoted to the academic rank of professor; a minority faculty reception; and the creation of new awards. The ODI will continue to provide support, resources and guidance for the medical student organization – the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs— and the diversity initiatives for medical residents.

Recruitment of diverse faculty will continue to be a critical priority. During the last year, the ODI created the Visiting Scholar Program, which is one of many ways to recruit under-represented minorities and women scholars and physicians to UAB. These visiting professors can serve to inform faculty members at their home institutions with first-hand knowledge of the array of career opportunities at UAB.

The Women in Medicine group also promises to enhance the career development and professional engagement of women faculty throughout the school. This recently established group is comprised of current and previous participants of the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program (ELAM). ELAM selects elite women physicians and scholars in the medical fields to participate in an intensive training and networking program, with the intention of aiding these women in career advancement. The Women in Medicine Group brings valuable expertise and insight to the quest for gender equity at the School of Medicine.   

Current and future initiatives by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion will be communicated not only through our new website, scheduled to launch in June, but also through upcoming newsletters and social media.

Diversity encompasses all of the ways that human beings are similar and different. There are, however, real gaps that exist, which require us to focus on particular dimensions of diversity in order to eliminate the gaps and create an inclusive environment for all employees, students and patients. Because of this, each component of ODI programming will address diversity and inclusion with respect to women, under-represented minorities, the LGBT community and others who encounter systematic discrimination.

As we move forward in the pursuit of excellence, I look forward to the discussions, collaborations and initiatives which will spring not only from leadership, but from every segment of the School of Medicine. Intentional excellence through diversity and inclusion is a collective endeavor — a goal we will realize together.