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Diversity, equity, inclusion: It’s part of the culture at UMMC

Published on Monday, October 25, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins, ricummins@umc.edu

School of Medicine department chairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center report out monthly on how they’re improving diversity, equity and inclusion.

This fall, the SOM has its largest class of underrepresented minorities in its history, topping 15 percent of overall enrollment.

The Medical Center’s seven schools each have a designated employee to prioritize, promote and execute initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. Just one of those projects: A 21-Day Anti-Racism Challenge in the School of Nursing.

Among the Medical Center's diversity, equity and inclusion leaders are, from left, Dr. Hanna Broome, GWIMS president; Mandy Scott, Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI); Shirley Pendolfi, ODI; Dr. Kristin Nalls, School of Dentistry dean of student affairs and inclusion; Dr. Erin Dehon, DEI vice chair, Emergency Medicine; Dr. Roberto Santos, DEI vice chair, Pediatrics; Dr. Juanyce Taylor, UMMC chief diversity and inclusion officer and ODI leader; Vikki Gholar, School of Population Health; Ivanna Adams-Nelson, School of Medicine student; Dashunda Bailey, ODI; and Dr. Marilyn Harrington, DEI director, School of Nursing.
Among the Medical Center's diversity, equity and inclusion leaders are, from left, Dr. Hanna Broome, GWIMS president; Mandy Scott, Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI); Shirley Pendolfi, ODI; Dr. Kristin Nalls, School of Dentistry dean of student affairs and inclusion; Dr. Erin Dehon, DEI vice chair, Emergency Medicine; Dr. Roberto Santos, DEI vice chair, Pediatrics; Dr. Juanyce Taylor, UMMC chief diversity and inclusion officer and ODI leader; Vikki Gholar, School of Population Health; Ivanna Adams-Nelson, School of Medicine student; Dashunda Bailey, ODI; and Dr. Marilyn Harrington, DEI director, School of Nursing.

They’re just three of the many conscious efforts across the Medical Center campus to promote DEI and what that can look like, be it holistic hiring and enrollment practices or providing an interfaith chapel on campus that’s a safe and welcoming space for all religions.

Juanyce D. Taylor
Taylor

“The more we embed DEI in our thinking and make it a priority, the more things evolve organically and not separately,” said Dr. Juanyce Taylor, who leads the Medical Center’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion as UMMC’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Changing campus culture to one of accountability for DEI efforts is a work in progress. But much has been accomplished, and momentum is growing campus-wide – achievements that have garnered state and national acclaim

“DEI is not just about race,” Taylor said. “It’s LGBT inclusion, women and gender equity, language differences, abilities, inclusive and safe learning environments, working with underserved communities to improve access and health equity, and more.”

A sampling of areas and actions where the Medical Center shines:

  • Schools are taking a more holistic approach to admissions and hiring processes. “They’ve seen the fruits of their labors through their students,” Taylor said. “Faculty diversity is a known weakness, but we’re seeing a culture change because people are paying attention. They understand that it improves our brand overall.”

In the School of Dentistry, for example, dean Dr. Sreenivas Koka has placed new priority on DEI in both admissions and faculty hiring. He’s assembled a new Admissions Board of Directors to oversee recruitment and admissions, and a related team focusing on DEI.

“Dr. Koka doesn’t want us to miss the students who might not have the strongest academics, but who are still exceptionally well qualified and would make a good dentist because they are community oriented and have a heart for service,” said Dr. Bill Boteler, associate professor in Care Planning and Restorative Sciences and a member of the Admissions Board of Directors.

  • More women, including women of color, are being appointed as department chairs and in administrative and executive positions.

“Not only do we have more women in chair roles, but women who are deans and associate deans across our schools,” Taylor said. “We’re seeing diverse talent in hospital administration as well.”

The Medical Center has instituted unconscious bias training for search committees and job advertisements posted in diversity publications and job boards to attract diverse applicants.

“We’ve seen more diverse applicant pools because Human Resources has been very intentional in making sure we expand recruitment to more diverse audiences,” Taylor said.

  • Workday, UMMC’s human resources management system allows the selection of preferred pronouns.
  • Campus wide are gender-neutral bathrooms, wheelchair-accessible buildings and spaces, instructional materials in accessible formats, and ADA-compliant webpages.
  • The Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior has established an interdisciplinary LGBT clinic called the TEAM Clinic. It’s sponsored by UMMC’s Center for Gender and Sexual Minority Health.
  • Faculty mentorship and leadership development is offered by the UMMC chapter of the Group on Women in Medicine and Science.
Hanna Broome
Broome

GWIMS “advances the full and successful participation and inclusion of women within academic medicine by addressing gender equity, recruitment and retention, awards and recognition, and career advancement,” said GWIMS president Dr. Hanna Broome, associate dean for student affairs and recruitment in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences and assistant professor of Cell and Molecular Biology.

GWIMS “achieves this mission through our mentoring program, leadership development program and monthly programming for all UMMC faculty, staff and trainees,” said Dr. Erin Dehon, GWIMS immediate past president and associate professor and vice chair of DEI in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

  • A diverse team in the Student Counseling and Wellness Center specializes in culturally competent counseling services.
  • The Associated Student body and Faculty Senate adopted DEI into their constitutions to promote DEI within both student and faculty ranks.
  • The student-run Jackson Free Clinic is improving health equity by offering outreach in minority and underserved communities.
  • The annual Pillars Awards recognize students, trainees, faculty, staff and teams who demonstrate a commitment to UMMC’s DEI goals.

The Medical Center’s DEI success is being recognized on state and national levels.

UMMC is a 2021 INSIGHT Into Diversity Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award winner. Also, the Mississippi chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives chose UMMC as the first recipient of the Diversity Equity & Inclusion Award.

LouAnn Woodward
Woodward

“Diversity among our workforce and student populations and an inclusive environment are, and must always be, core considerations at the Medical Center,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“I’m proud of the efforts and successes we’ve had, and these recognitions validate the commitments we’ve made. I commend and appreciate everyone who understands the positive impact a committed focus on diversity and inclusion can have.”

The honors are “a testament of the many strides and continued successes made to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at UMMC,” Taylor said.

INSIGHT Into Diversity seeks to advance the conversation on diversity and inclusion in higher education and beyond. UMMC is one of 51 institutions recognized.

UMMC’s nominator for the Diversity Equity & Inclusion Award cited as just one example the Medical Center’s Black Men in Healthcare Empowerment Summit, a program for African American boys ages 10-14 held June 26 at the School of Medicine.

That was followed by the UMMC INSIGHT Summer Enrichment Program July 12-July 30 for African-American, Hispanic, Latino and Native American high school students considering careers in medicine.

“The award specifically recognizes those who create and support an environment where employees create a diverse workforce, cultivate an inclusive and engaged workplace, and provide outstanding customer service,” said Embra K. Jackson, chairman of the Mississippi Healthcare Executives DEI Committee.

pharmacy-goody-bags-1.jpg

Medical Center pharmacy technician Kenyada Hathorn is thrilled to get a thank-you goody bag prepared for her work area by students in the School for Health Related Professions. Behind her is fellow pharmacy tech Jamesha Demerritt.

“We are very grateful to the organization to be recognized for this award,” Taylor said. “It is truly a collaborative effort, with so many partners involved in this mission.”

UMMC‘s DEI efforts are also part of the fabric of its learners. Just one example: Students in the School of Health Related Professions recently assembled goody bags, then personally surprised clinical employees around the Medical Center with the treats.

It was a lesson in inclusion and respect organized by Dr. Driscoll Devaul, assistant dean of academic affairs and assistant professor of health sciences. And, it was a step in building servant leaders, Devaul said.

Driscoll DeVaul
Devaul

“I wanted to find a way to further collaborate with the health system and to help groups of employees who might not get the attention that other areas get,” Devaul said. “There’s so much diversity in our (SHRP) programs, and this ties into that. We are including everyone. We want everyone to be represented.”

On Oct. 22, they delivered 200 goody bags to employees in Respiratory Therapy and Pharmacy. Earlier in October, they assembled 500 bags for other departments.

At a time when health care is still being hit hard by COVID-19, Devaul said, “I want our students to look back and say, ‘I did something.’ I want them to feel a part of what’s going on.”

Joey Granger
Granger

Students in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences also are engaged in conscious DEI efforts. “We are proud of the fact that we have the largest percentage of underrepresented minorities than any other school at UMMC,” said Dean Joey Granger. “We have a wide range of initiatives within our Discovery U and biomedical sciences programs, as well as NIH-funded training programs that promote DEI.”

Joe Tacy
Tacy

For 21 days, faculty and staff in the School of Nursing “tasked ourselves to do one action to further our understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, systemic racism, oppression and equity as a group,” said Dr. Joseph Tacy, associate dean for administration  Participation in the challenge, which concluded with a town hall meeting to discuss lessons learned, was optional, he said.

The school also has developed a diversity library, both virtual and physical, stocked with books, podcasts, videos and journal articles, and this year created a monthly diversity digest newsletter, Tacy said.  

DEI is a team effort, Taylor said.

“We are becoming more transparent about our deficits, and acknowledging where we are lacking,” she said. “Being honest about it makes a difference.

“We know what the challenges are, but we’re at a point where we need to identify and implement the solutions.”