Achieving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

What you really don’t want to do, if you want to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at your academic institution, is to recruit diverse people to your program and then have them come and feel not included, said Vivian Asare, MD. “That can work against your efforts,” she stated in an oral presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST). Asare is assistant professor and vice chief of DEI for Yale Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, and associate medical director of Yale Centers for Sleep Medicine, New Haven, Conn.

In offering a path to successful DEI, Asare said: “The first step is to build a team and discuss your mission. Invite everyone to participate and include your leadership because they’re the ones who set the stage, ensure sustainability, and can be a liaison with faculty.” Then a DEI leader should be elected, she added.

The next and very important step is to survey the current institutional climate. “You need to tap into how people feel about DEI in your program.” That entails speaking directly with the stakeholders (faculty, staff, trainees) and identifying their specific concerns and what they think is lacking. Retreats, serious group discussions, and self-reflecting (asking “what initiatives would be good for us?”), and meeting one-on-one with individuals for a truly personalized approach are among potentially productive strategies for identifying the priorities and DEI-related topics specific to a particular academic sleep program.

Asare offered up a sample DEI survey (Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Nov;223[5]:715.e1-715.e7), that made direct statements inviting the respondent to check off one of the following responses: Yes, No, Somewhat, Do not know, and Not applicable. Among sample statements:

  • Our department is actively committed to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  • Faculty searches in the department regularly attract a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates and/or attract a pool that represents the availability of MDs in this field.

  • Our outreach and recruitment processes employ targeted practices for attracting diverse populations.

Asare said that a survey can be a simple approach for garnering information that can be useful for prioritizing DEI topics of concern and igniting interest in them. Engagement requires regular DEI committee meetings with minutes or a newsletter and with updates and topics brought to faculty meetings.

Key DEI Areas of Focus

Asare listed several key DEI areas: Recruitment/retention, mentorship, scholarship, and inclusion and community engagement. Under scholarship, for example, she cited topics for potential inclusion in a DEI curriculum: Unconscious bias and anti-racism training, racism, discrimination and microaggression education (bystander/deescalation training), cultural competency and awareness, workplace civility, and health disparities. “We all know that implicit bias in providers is a reality, unfortunately,” Asare said. Being aware of these implicit biases is a start, but instruction on how to actively overcome them has to be provided. Tools may include perspective-taking, exploring common identity, and self-reflection.

To create an inclusive environment for all faculty, trainees, and staff may involve establishing a “welcome committee” for new faculty, perhaps with designating a “peer buddy,” creating social events and other opportunities for all opinions and ideas to be heard and valued. Particularly for underserved and disadvantaged patient populations, patient advocacy and community service need to be fostered through support groups and provision of resources.

Summarizing, Asare reiterated several key elements for a successful DEI program: Build a team and discuss the mission, survey the current climate allowing open communication and dialogue, plan and engage, organize, and form areas of DEI focus. Find out where you are and where you want to be with respect to DEI, she concluded.

Asare declared that she had no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on Chest Physician.

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