Racism is in our lane: a message to the School of Medicine from Dean Sharon Anderson

School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson with Christopher Ponce Campuzano, Med23, at M.D. student orientation.

Aug. 7, 2019

As with many of you, I have been wrestling with the challenges of the rising tide of hate in our country, and our place as a School of Medicine in the dialogue about race and racism. I sought out Dr. Derick Du Vivier, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the school, and Dr. Brian Gibbs, chief diversity officer for OHSU, for what became a very meaningful and helpful discussion.

Among their incisive guidance was this: racism impacts health. As a leader, you have a platform. Use it to talk about these issues.

So in welcoming the M.D. Class of 2023 on Monday morning, I encouraged them to see themselves as part of the solution to some of our toughest challenges: that health care equity and health disparities are in our lane; that gun violence and its devastating impacts on people are in our lane.

At the White Coat ceremony on Friday, I will add to that list the health impacts of climate change. Whenever we can, we must stand up for science.

Students help set the bar

On these issues, our students are our hope for the future – and our guides. They see the challenges, and they challenge our traditional approaches. And, increasingly, they represent, and are primed to integrate, the diversity of their backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to help us all deliver care and design research grounded in greater cultural wisdom and humility.

This year, we are welcoming our most diverse incoming M.D. students and trainees ever:

Among our 160 incoming M.D. students and 263 new residents and fellows, 14 percent of both cohorts identify with a minority group under-represented in medicine, which includes Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American or Alaskan Native. When adding those who identify as Asian or Asian Indian, the total proportion more than doubles.

In our Physician Assistant program, 26 percent of our 43 incoming students are under-represented minorities. Our incoming Graduate Studies student data isn’t tabulated until the fall, but last year, 13 percent of incoming students across programs were under-represented minorities.

Equally important is our continued focus on admitting students from rural communities and/or disadvantaged backgrounds. Among our incoming M.D. students, 31 percent come from a disadvantaged background or have faced adversity and 21 percent come from a rural backgrounds.

Gender and sexual orientation diversity, while we must do a better job of tracking it, is just as crucial. This year, 61% of the M.D. Class of 2023 self-identified as female, 38% as male, and 1% declined to respond.

We value change

The bottom line is that we are an institution that values change, we value difference and, in this work, we want to be leaders.

That we are making progress with student diversity is a huge credit to our academic program and Provost’s Office teams, including the outreach and support of the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), and also of student and trainee groups over many years.

It is also a victory for OHSU’s pathway programs, their faculty and staff, including the new Wy’East Post-Baccalaureate Pathway, which prepares Alaska Native and American Indian students to excel in medical school, and the Neuroscience Post-Baccalaureate Initiative.

Five members of the first Wy’East cohort, and an additional Native American student, matriculated into the M.D. Class of 2023. Two students are matriculating from the first Neuroscience cohort, one into the OHSU Neuroscience Graduate Program and one into a program at Duke.

We are also providing more resources and supports for students once they get here, and we provide supports to insure their sense of safety, including for undocumented students.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone can contribute, advance and thrive is crucial to retention. It is significant work for us with the potential for significant return. To the extent that our diverse students and trainees choose to build their careers at OHSU, they help address our even bigger challenge: the diversity of our faculty.

In the School of Medicine, less than five percent of our faculty identifies with an under-represented minority group. Dr. George Mejicano, senior associate dean for education, worked with university colleagues to gather and share this data to focus our recruitment efforts. We know our records are incomplete, and encourage faculty who have not declared their race or ethnicity to consider doing so in Oracle to help inform our efforts to improve.

The work has already begun:

  • Faculty members who attended the AAMC Early-Career Minority Faculty Leadership Seminar in June have shared strategies.
  • In October, OHSU will host Dr. Quinn Capers, admissions dean at Ohio State and nationally known for his diversity recruitment and retention strategies.
  • In January, OHSU has invited Dr. Camara Jones from Morehouse School of Medicine to give the Hatfield Lecture on “Achieving Health Equity: Tools for a National Campaign against Racism.” Information about both visits will be shared soon.

In addition, OHSU and University of California – Davis have received a $1.8 million American Medical Association grant to prepare students and residents to expand access to quality health care from Sacramento to Portland.

Through COMPADRE, or California Oregon Medical Partnership to Address Disparities in Rural Education and Health, OHSU and UC-Davis students and residents will train through a network of teaching hospitals and clinics in rural, tribal and urban areas. Recruiting students and trainees who reflect and desire to serve in medically under-resourced communities will be crucial to this initiative.

Celebrating excellence

These areas of progress are only a few of our causes for celebration. Here are more:

  • Congratulations to our 100 faculty who received appointments or promotions this year, including 54 women. Ten faculty members received emeritus status. We will celebrate at a reception this fall.
  • Again this year, U.S. News & World Report ranked OHSU Hospital need link among the best in the country and No. 1 in Oregon, and six of our adult specialties are ranked among the top 50 nationwide.
  • Doernbecher was ranked among the top in the nation for the 10th year in a row.

(And speaking of recognitions, providers please remember to vote by Aug. 9 for your top doctors, nurses and complementary health practitioners in the Portland Monthly competition.)

Also, some important resources:

  • Ascend is the name of a new round-up of faculty development offerings across OHSU that is posted on OHSU Now every other Friday. Each installment features a different photo of a colleague ascending something – so please send your climbing photos – whether mountains, trees, or walls!
  • Faculty development offerings in the school are also always listed on the school’s faculty development website. The Provost’s site lists OHSU-wide resources.
  • Don’t miss the two new e-mailed news digests that everyone now receives from OHSU Now. Your Week is sent Mondays with “news you can use,” including the Ascend feature. Week in Review is sent Fridays with news and accomplishments across the institution to celebrate and share. 

Words and deeds

But I want to circle back and end with some important messages.

Our work is far from done. The power of diversity is about all of us in combination and what we can do together. And each one of us plays a role in creating an inclusive environment.

The story of Med23 student Christopher Ponce Campuzano is a great example. Christopher came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child without documentation. He is the first student in our M.D. program who has DACA status – deferred action for childhood arrivals.

The love, bravery and tenacity of his parents, who did janitorial and construction work in his home state of Texas, and the support of extended family and benefactors, helped get him into the CDI Summer Equity Research Program at OHSU in 2017. That’s where many of you made a difference, showing him kindness and taking him under your wing.

Then, soon after his internship ended, he saw the OHSU statement I referenced earlier about our support for DACA students, which doubled down on then-President Joe Robertson’s “All are welcome here.”

Said Christopher, “When you’ve grown up hiding, to have this massive, amazing, high-ranking institution say that I’m welcomed here. It took my breath away.”

Christopher returned to Texas Tech and spoke out in a campus opinion piece, lauding OHSU for its courage. He applied and was accepted to medical school here; the OHSU Presidential Scholarship for his tuition and the Niles Family Scholarship for his expenses cemented his dream to attend.

Words and deeds matter. Thank you for joining me in being the kind of place where more students, staff and faculty like Christopher want to come, and in always aspiring to do better.

Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine

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