June 20, 2023

Celebrating diversity and fostering health equity

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June has been a month of celebrations highlighting the incredible diversity of our school and our nation, and our Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has done an excellent job organizing educational and entertaining events around both Pride Month and Juneteenth.

The Heersink School of Medicine and UAB Medicine participated in the June 10 Pride Parade and the June 11 Pridefest in downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park. In honor of Pride Month, the ODI also explored programs the Department of Radiology has developed to create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ patients, students, and faculty members.

The ODI’s inaugural Juneteenth Commemoration Event on June 13 featured speakers, food, and arts that shed light on the history and significance of the holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the U.S. The ODI has published an informative overview of the meaning of Juneteenth that includes information about the intersections and interactions between diversity and inclusion in medicine, health equity, and improving health outcomes for all.

Embracing the rich variety of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives we are fortunate to have here at the Heersink School of Medicine is essential to our pursuit of excellence across all our mission areas. This includes not just racial, sexual, and gender identities—it also means valuing and learning from people from different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, different ages and life experiences, and the perspectives of people who live with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The more threads we weave into the fabric of our school, the more beautiful and stronger the tapestry becomes, and the more meaningful the story it tells.

The Heersink School of Medicine has earned a reputation as a national leader in researching and addressing health disparities and promoting health equity thanks in large part to the efforts of the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC). This national prominence was recognized earlier this month when Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that runs the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance Programs, visited UAB to discuss health equity with subject-matter experts from across the school and UAB Medicine. The CMS delegation learned about the impact Live HealthSmart Alabama (LHSA) is having in underserved communities and toured LHSA’s Mobile Market and Mobile Wellness Units. Brooks-LaSure and other visitors heard from MHERC Director Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, about the importance of community engagement to LHSA’s success; how community navigators are helping improve cancer outcomes in vulnerable populations from Gabrielle Rocque, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, and the UAB Health System’s focus on community health equity from David Randall, chief strategy officer for UAB Health System and Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, among others. I’m very proud of the broad recognition our school has achieved for its diversity and inclusion and health equity efforts, and the contributions we are making to the national discussion around these topics.

Finally, I’m delighted to announce that the 2024 Heersink School of Medicine Commencement speaker will be Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery. This year, the EJI launched a new health clinic providing free health screenings and services to formerly incarcerated people, which is a particularly vulnerable group with unique health challenges. The clinic’s two lead physicians, Margaret Hayden, M.D., and Sanjay Kishore, M.D., have clinical assistant professor appointments with the Montgomery Internal Medicine department, and our Montgomery Regional Medical Campus is in talks to collaborate with the EJI on some exciting programs for our medical students. I look forward to sharing information as those efforts take shape and to more opportunities to support the important work of the EJI Clinic.