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Diversity Officers Share Challenges and Ideas at Inaugural Meeting at ADEA

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NADOHE Photo 2Discussing the challenges diversity officers at health professions schools face along with the pathway to implement change was on the agenda at the Inaugural National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Health Professions Chapter meeting held on Nov. 15. ADEA hosted the historic event at its headquarters in Washington, DC.

“This is not only a historic first meeting, but it signifies the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion, a culture that supports each person’s growth along the cultural competency continuum, ensures health equity, and embeds inclusive excellence, as a norm, in the health professions,” says ADEA President and CEO Karen P. West, D.M.D., M.P.H., in her opening statement.

NADOHE is an organization that serves diversity officers in higher education. It has several mission goals, including producing and disseminating research to inform diversity initiatives, identifying and circulating diversity best practices, providing professional development for current and aspiring diversity officers, informing and influencing national and local policies as well as creating and fostering networking opportunities for diversity officers. 

Topics during the inaugural meeting included a discussion of NADOHE as well as the evolution of the Health Professions Chapter, an overview of ADEA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives by ADEA Chief Diversity Officer Sonya Gyjuan Smith, Ed.D., J.D., and a conversation about the NADOHE Health Professions Chapter’s priorities. 

During the afternoon session, “Reading the Pulse of Diversity Officers,” David A. Acosta, M.D., Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), laid out the obstacles diversity officers now face at some medical schools and teaching hospitals. Those obstacles included lack of workforce diversity; learning environments tinged with racial tension, sexism and anti-immigrant sentiments; and even the existing curricula that don’t include racial literacy or address existing racism in medicine. 

Dr. Acosta noted that past efforts to increase diversity in medicine, from grant funding to initiatives like Project 3000 by 2000, largely seemed to benefit Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites. In fact, despite those diversity efforts, the percentage of Black or African American matriculants to U.S. medical schools has only increased by roughly one percentage point between 1980 to 2016—from 6.0% to 7.1%, respectively. 

Dr. Acosta pointed out that mistreatment and sexual and gender harassment also continues to be an issue in academia. According to the 2018 consensus study report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Sexual Harassment of Women, more than 50% of women faculty and staff in academia and between 20% to 50% of women students in science, engineering and medicine said they had experienced sexual harassment.

Dr. Acosta also discussed possible ways to address these challenges, from programs like AAMC’s Healthcare Executive Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program to Council of Deans Fellowship Program to diversity officers trying to work with their respective administrations to find ways to tackle “the exclusionary practices that were put into place before you even arrived” that act as obstacles to diversity, Dr. Acosta shares. One example he gave was arbitrary board scores that exclude medical students from entering residency for some specialties, further limiting the pool of candidates in these disciples.

NADOHE Photo 1Attendees walked away from the event energized and full of ideas.

“I was exceedingly pleased with the formation of the Health Professions Chapter (HPC) of NADOHE and the inaugural convening at ADEA,” Dr. Acosta says. “The HPC can serve as a ‘space’ where equity, diversity and inclusion officers can safely convene to express and exchange ideas, troubleshoot issues, build our resilience, and address and prevent diversity fatigue and burnout. The HPC can be the voice for equity, diversity and inclusion in the health professions. We can use our collective intelligence, wisdom and conviction to influence change in the name of equity, diversity and inclusion.”

Published on Dec. 11, 2019

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