Partnering to foster diversity and inclusion

OHSU School of Medicine and Northwest Permanente are partnering to expand the pool of physician mentors for diverse students in the M.D. program.

Leaders from both organizations kicked off the pilot program April 15 with a dinner at the Kaiser Permanente Town Hall in North Portland to introduce physicians and students to each other.

“Mentors share what we call the hidden curriculum – the do’s and don’ts that an experienced professional can pass down to empower the next generation,” said Leslie Garcia, OHSU assistant chief diversity officer and a project manager in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Many of our students are first in their family to attend college or medical school and don’t always have access or the networks to learn these valuable lessons. This program is about making connections to support our students’ academic success and social and professional persistence and resilience.”

Partnering for a thriving health care community

“Through partnership, we can share the responsibility and opportunity for fostering medical students and building a thriving, diverse and inclusive health care community,” said Chris Olivares, M.D., diversity and inclusion physician lead at Northwest Permanente, who is working with Ruth Chang, M.D., vice president and chief people officer at Northwest Permanente, and Garcia to implement the program.

Leslie Garcia, OHSU assistant chief diversity officer and a project manager in the OHSU School of Medicine, is shaping the program with Northwest Permanente’s Chris Olivares, M.D., diversity and inclusion physician lead, and Ruth Chang, M.D., vice president and chief people officer.

Northwest Permanente (NWP) is the largest independent, multispecialty medical group practicing in Oregon and Southwest Washington. NWP, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals form Kaiser Permanente Northwest, an integrated health care system.

A total of 39 OHSU and NWP physicians have signed on to mentor 39 OHSU students for at least six months. After mingling over tamales at the April 15 event, the students and physicians had short conversations with as many potential mentors or mentees as possible in 40 minutes, signing each other’s passports to keep track.

At the end of the evening, each listed the five people they thought they would most like for a mentee or mentor. Program leaders will combine those lists with questionnaires in which students and physicians shared their interests and experiences in order to match mentors with mentees. The physicians and students receive guidance for how to structure and build their professional relationship.

Scaffolding for success

“You can’t force mentorship,” said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education in the OHSU School of Medicine. “This program is about creating a milieu to let those sparks occur naturally. We want this to be a beginning.”

Nina Nguyen, a first-year medical student at OHSU, credits her parents for her tenacity to get to college and medical school but because they did not have the same educational opportunities, their ability to advise her is limited.

“Having a mentor provides really important scaffolding,” Nguyen said.

Said Buki Okafor, M.D., a Northwest Permanente pediatrician, “You need a mentor to tell you, you can do it.”

Among many SoM diversity initiatives

The program also provides a valuable outlet for physicians to connect with students.

The Kaiser Permanente-OHSU mentorship program is among many initiatives in the School of Medicine to not only recruit but support and retain diverse students, including the new Diversity Navigators program (OHSU login required) in which Drs. Donn Spight and Anthony Cheng serve as guides for diverse students as they navigate medical school.

“We will continue building and deepening our efforts across programs to foster inclusive learning communities,” said Dr. Mejicano, “because an inclusive community is a healthy community and because we need our students to be the change we want to see in our world.”


Featured image: Anthony Sanchez, M.D. class of 2022, OHSU School of Medicine, and Dr. Buki Okafor, a Northwest Permanente pediatrician, connect during the kick-off of a new mentorship program created by OHSU and Northwest Permanente.

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