Faculty share perspectives on fostering diversity and inclusion at OHSU

July 21, 2019

By Erin Hoover Barnett

Academic medicine is, at its core, not only about practicing medicine but about advancing health – for everyone. A key aspect is addressing health disparities, aided by a faculty that brings a diversity of wisdom and life experiences to frame research, care for patients and teach the next generation.

“Academic medicine has always been bolstered by individuals who are interested in providing better patient care, and I think as medicine has progressed, as well as society, we have a greater understanding that treating the underlying health disparities is as important as knowing which antibiotic to choose,” said Jennifer Huang, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine. “Academic medicine will always be and should always be at the forefront of this change, as we have the responsibility of moving the field forward.”

OHSU Now asked Dr. Huang and School of Medicine colleagues Derick Du Vivier, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, and Bory Kea, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, to reflect on OHSU’s efforts to foster a diverse faculty upon their return from the June American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Early-Career Minority Faculty Leadership Seminar. The deadline for the Oct. 10-11 Mid-Career Minority Faculty Leadership Seminar is July 31.

Building a diverse community

OHSU’s focus on building a more racially diverse student body has shown results:

  • The OHSU student body overall includes 29 percent of students identifying with a racial or ethnic minority. Among students under-represented in medicine – Black, Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders – the percentage is 17 percent.
  • In the School of Medicine, the percentage of students and trainees identifying with groups under-represented in medicine ranges from 9 percent in the M.D. program to 14 percent in the graduate medical education program (residents and fellows).

Successful initiatives include On Track, the Equity Research Program, the Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science, second-look programs at which diverse candidates are invited to visit and learn more about OHSU, the Diversity Navigators program, and new post-baccalaureate opportunities for diverse students, including the Wy’East pathway in the M.D. program and the Neuroscience Post-Baccalaureate Program for aspiring scientists.

Yet the lack of a critical mass of diverse faculty at OHSU is a significant challenge that Drs. Du Vivier, Huang and Kea referenced:

  • Just over 19 percent of School of Medicine faculty identify with a racial or ethnic minority group.
  • When considering groups under-represented in medicine, the proportion drops to less than 5 percent. (In Oregon, 6.8 percent of the physician population identifies with groups under-represented in medicine.)

View the OHSU Fact Book and newly released student, trainee and faculty data in the School of Medicine.

Faculty note promising signs

Building a diverse community at OHSU is especially a challenge in a state lacking diversity as a vestige of its uniquely exclusionary history. Diverse communities have persevered in Oregon despite these challenges, yet on campus, students and faculty sometimes describe a sense of isolation.

All three faculty members spoke of OHSU’s investment in sending faculty to the AAMC seminar as an important indicator of its commitment to minority faculty engagement and success at OHSU. Both the early-career and mid-career Minority Faculty Leadership seminars offer skill-building and strategies for career advancement through networking opportunities, career development planning sessions, and small group consultations with senior faculty and leaders.

“I felt so supported by OHSU in both identifying this conference for me and supporting my attendance,” Dr. Huang said. “Many of the other faculty members at the meeting sought out this opportunity and begged their institutions for support.”

As further indication of improvement, Dr. Du Vivier referenced the Unconscious Bias Campus-Wide Initiative led by the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion which has already trained half of OHSU’s 17,000 employees to understand how becoming aware of the natural human process of forming biases can allow for behavior change to create a more inclusive climate.

Additional progress noted included:

  • OHSU’s growing acknowledgement of health disparities.
  • The new American Medical Association grant that OHSU and UC-Davis will use to more effectively recruit, train and place physicians, many from under-represented groups, who want to serve in urban, rural and tribal medically under-resourced communities.
  •  A focus on research around the social determinants of health.
  • The creation of new positions to focus on diversity, including his new role as assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Medicine and Dr. Letisha Wyatt’s role as director of diversity in research for OHSU.
  • Multiple guest lecturers on diversity and inclusion . Among key points made, Dr. John Matsui, co-founder and director of the Berkeley Scholars Program whom the Alliance for Diversity in Science brought to OHSU last fall, noted that while diversity encourages more diversity, everyone can play a role in creating a welcoming environment.

Dr. Kea said that OHSU has initiated a conversation about the need for culture change to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community indicates its intention to improve.

She also noted increasing diversity among OHSU leadership, including OHSU President Danny Jacobs, who is African American, as well as many women leaders, yet emphasized that there remains much room for continued improvement so that diverse leaders are evident throughout the ranks of faculty, nurses and staff.

More steps needed

Drs. Du Vivier, Huang and Kea offered their thoughts on additional steps:

  • Highlight more of the successes of minority faculty who are here.
  • Improve OHSU involvement in communities of color.
  • Highlight the changing demographics and patient demand in the city, metro area and state.
  • Embrace the opportunity and the imperative to care for a more diverse patient base as OHSU expands to serve communities surrounding Tuality in Washington County and Adventist in outer-east Portland.

“Our messaging needs to be more clear that we welcome all and that our hope to change the face of medicine is a priority at OHSU,” Dr. Kea said.

Dr. Du Vivier said he sees great opportunity at OHSU to lead and affect change.

“Institutional support of the Wy’East program, implicit bias training and other diversity programs at OHSU demonstrate that commitment,” Dr. Du Vivier said. “All of it is possible because of the support for champions and believers in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion at OHSU.”

Photo caption: Left to right, Drs. Bory Kea, assistant professor of emergency medicine; Derick Du Vivier, assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, and Jennifer Huang, assistant professor of pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine. Photo by Jordan Sleeth.