“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
I write this entry on Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, so I’d like to honor the civil right icon’s legacy at a time when the ongoing struggles for racial justice remain so acute by sharing my thoughts on diversity and inclusion in medicine broadly, and more specifically, at BSOM. The medical education community still has a great deal of work to do to create the kind of anti-racist climate that our institutions need and a just society requires. This is important work for us at BSOM.
Why is diversity important? Quite simply, BSOM can’t live up to its potential without it. Diversity enhances innovation. Individuals from different backgrounds will think differently, reflecting their unique lived experiences. Diversity will enhance our ability as a medical-scientific community to improve our approaches to education, research, and patient care. Of course, diversity has many facets – age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, religion, and more. The evidence shows – and I’m happy to provide citations if you are interested—that diversity in our teams will produce better results. There is evidence, for example, that increased diversity in research groups results in more published articles and more citations per article, an important metric for academic success. We also know that diverse teams can better address health disparities – an important problem plaguing our health care system.
Among 2020 matriculants to US medical schools, 7.9% were Black and 6.8% were Hispanic/Latinx. Among current US medical school faculty, these numbers are only 3.6% and 3.2%, respectively. At BSOM, about 20% of our student body is comprised of students from these underrepresented in medicine (URM) groups, yet our faculty diversity is strikingly lower. This creates a mismatch that does not allow us to nurture our diverse student body to the degree that we would like.
We also know that there is a problem with gender disparity in academic medicine. Although men and women equally matriculate into medical school, in many departments, medical school faculties are predominantly white males (not just at BSOM, but at most schools), and this becomes more marked with rising rank. Only 14% of medical school deans are women (BSOM can be proud that three of the eight deans in the school’s history have been women).
If we want to increase the success of our medical school on all fronts, we need to improve. And improvement goes way beyond the numbers. We must create an environment where all are supported and all can thrive.
So, how do we do this? First, we have to recognize that moving through the educational pipeline is harder for underrepresented in medicine applicants. Many have to overcome significant barriers to get through college, and into medical school and beyond. Our strategies to recruit medical students from diverse backgrounds is so far successful. We must make sure, however that our care of them while they are with us guarantees success. We must make sure that our curriculum adequately addresses health disparities, and avoid using outdated concepts that stereotype various racial groups. Assessment must not fairly disadvantage certain groups. When recruiting faculty, we need to make sure that participants on search committees are aware of their own implicit biases so that they can recognize them and make sure that these biases do not steer us away from broad and diverse candidates.
So far, I’m pleased to see the level of engagement our students have shown in helping to tackle these inequities. I’m also happy that we have many involved faculty, led by Drs. Erica Taylor and David Dhanraj who are leading the Diversity and Equity Taskforce. On February 4th, please join me, Erica and David as we give a Dean’s Hour Town Hall for faculty and staff on the importance of this work at BSOM.
Have a wonderful week!
Valerie Weber, MD, MS
Dean, Boonshoft School of Medicine