January 18, 2023

Carrying forward Dr. King’s dream

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On Friday, January 13, I was honored to speak at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Event, hosted by the Heersink School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). This inspiring event featured a keynote address from Dr. Paulette Dilworth, UAB’s vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and remarks from Dr. Mona Fouad, senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the Heersink School of Medicine and associate vice president of the UAB Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), as well as a special performance from Miles College Choir.

The event offered a powerful reminder of how Dr. King’s profound wisdom still guides us as we strive to create a more just and equitable society. Importantly, here at the Heersink School of Medicine and across UAB, we have made promoting diversity and inclusion a central tenet of our mission. 

First we must understand these terms in order to fully embrace them. The ODI and ODEI offer these definitions for the two concepts:

  • Diversity refers to the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstances. Differences include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and more.
  • Inclusion refers to the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued. An inclusive climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions.

UAB received national recognition for its richly diverse workforce by being named America’s No. 4 Best Employer for Diversity by Forbes in 2021. This year’s entering class of medical students tied with 2019 for the highest percentage of students from populations that are underrepresented in medicine at 21%. But, as proud as I am of these achievements, assembling a diverse workforce and student body is just the first step. Inclusion requires intention and action, of which there are numerous examples we can point to across our school.

The Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) partnership with Tuskegee University is currently recruiting the first cohort of Benjamin-Carver Scientists. This collaborative effort seeks to promote inclusive excellence by recruiting early-career faculty who themselves will be committed to promoting diversity and inclusion while addressing health disparities.

A new LGBTQ+ Faculty Association was created last year to offer connection, collaboration, and support for members of the LGBTQ+ faculty and allies. 

Two new leadership roles were created in recent years to help strengthen and expand out diversity and inclusion efforts: Dr. Raegan Durant became the first associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion and Dr. Latesha Elopre became the first assistant dean for Medical Education Diversity and Inclusion.

Women in leadership is the focus of a first-in-its-kind option of the highly competitive Momentum Executive Leadership Program hosted by Momentum Leaders—exclusive to women at UAB Medicine. The second year of UAB’s Momentum in Medicine program launched in September 2022 and includes 16 women across UAB Medicine and Heersink School of Medicine.

On January 13, our school hosted the Women in Medicine and Science Promotion Reception to recognize women promoted to associate professor and professor in 2022. This annual event celebrates women’s achievements and demonstrates the immense value of their contributions to our school. 

The school’s ODI offers numerous trainings and programs to help us all be more inclusive in our professional and personal lives. 

A new training for 2023 is Making the Invisible Visible: Understanding and Disrupting Microaggression. Microaggressions cause harm to marginalized persons and groups and to the school’s environment. This training will help attendees understand microaggressions and enable them to better avoid being an offender and learn how to respond when they are a target of or witness microaggression.

Another training, Addressing Bias in Virtual Interviews, was created specifically for members of selection committees who conduct virtual interviews for potential residents and fellows. The presentation reviews perception/stereotype bias, candidate setting bias, vocal tone bias, rating scale bias, and strategies to mitigate biases in interviews. 

One of UAB’s core diversity and inclusion programs is the Common Thread Diversity Toolkit. The toolkit includes four video modules—Building Belonging, Understanding Bias, Cultural Competency, Conflict Resolution—and discussion prompts for each video. The ODI is available to facilitate the training, and I urge all of our school’s units to take advantage of this service. 

This is just a selection of the many programs that promote inclusion at our school that I could highlight. I’m proud to be part of an institution that is carrying forward Dr. King’s dream of “the beloved community,” where each person’s unique perspective, talents, and skills are recognized, appreciated, and nurtured. Our school is only made better by their contributions.