Collective discussion on diversity and inclusion

I hope you are all enjoying the early signs of spring as much as I am. (I saw someone running yesterday in shorts—hurray!)

I will get to my blog title, but want to first share a few words about things I have been doing over the past week. In a recent blog I talked about the development of a new biomedical science undergraduate program. That’s certainly exciting work, but we have great things happening in our current programming; for example, last week I spent some time viewing the research posters of our BMSC 210 (microbiology) students. As always, it was fascinating and I learned a lot, but more importantly I was inspired by the enthusiasm, energy, eloquence and creativity of our CoM students. It is always good to be reminded of why we are here.

This is the time of year when many of our programs, departments and other units showcase the research of our biomedical, graduate, medical and physical therapy students and our residents. I strongly encourage CoM (and other!) staff and faculty to attend these events, peruse the posters and listen to these learners present their work. You will be educated and inspired!

Now, getting to the topic of this blog: last week I attended a board meeting of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA). I took the opportunity to thank them for what they do for our learners and their keen interest in the College of Medicine. While there, I obtained a copy of the spring 2019 issue of SMA Digest. The theme is Celebrating our Diversity and I read the entire issue. The SMA is to be commended for their advocacy and the excellent journalism used to convey some really important messages.

I want to highlight a few of the articles in the SMA Digest. First, a superb story on our SMA president, Dr. Siva Karunakaran, a nephrologist originally from Sri Lanka who has lived and worked in Regina for the past 18 years. As I read about his early life, I thought we have some things in common: growing up on an island (PEI for me); being the first in the family to go into medicine; and spending high school mostly studying! But fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka was something I had no reference point for, other than one book (Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje) that remains vivid in my mind 15 years after reading it for the atrocities it described. Siva and his wife, Kumudhini, an infectious disease specialist, traveled a remarkable journey to be doctors in Saskatchewan. We are lucky to have them.

Among the many stories of Saskatchewan physicians and their families from diverse backgrounds and communities in the issue, one boldly and eloquently calls out the bias and prejudice our international medical graduate colleagues often face. Another emphasizes the prejudice and lack of “access to safe and sensitive medical care” faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I would like to draw your attention to an excellent article on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website entitled Keeping our promise to LGBTQ+ patients. Some of the stories and data in that article about the bias and health disparities faced by members of this community are disturbing, and reminded me of very similar circumstances I witnessed in the late 80s. I was caring for the first three patients with AIDS in my community and was shocked when colleagues refused to see them in consultation. So while it is remarkable to see where science has brought us in the care of people with HIV since that time, it is sad to see this type of prejudice is still so prevalent.

The article goes on to emphasize that we must create “more welcoming learning environments for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and patients.” We must not tolerate instances of prejudice our LGBTQ+ learners still face in the classroom and clinical setting, no matter if they are subtle, shared in the form of a joke, or blatant and intentional. We address these incidents when they come to our attention with education, advice and coaching or with stronger interventions if necessary. We can directly act when we hear about these types of incidents, and on a daily basis we can, together, act to create a positive learning environment.

In addition, this article shares some information on medical curricula around North America on LGBTQ+ content. I have taken some time to look into our own curricular content. We are weaving curriculum through different courses and segments across not just medical expert content, but also in communication, clinical reasoning and advocacy/professionalism areas of our curriculum. Our undergraduate curriculum includes historical content, clinical case content, gender identity education, and sexual health sessions, as well as LGBTQ+ health as a component of preparation for residency. We are doing a lot of what the article suggests, but I would welcome input from our learners and faculty on how we are doing from your experience.

Going back to the SMA article, Dr. Francois Reitz says it well:

“From the training of new physicians to re-education of the older physicians like myself – I think if one provides a safe space, and if, regardless of your personal, political or religious beliefs, you treat all individuals with the respect they deserve and undertake to keep and maintain their integrity as human beings and not just another label, I think that is a huge step forward.”

The content in these great pieces underlines why diversity and inclusion across our students, staff, faculty and leaders is critically important for our college. In another of my recent blogs, I asked our CoM faculty and academic leaders for their help by taking a short survey—we need data to understand where we are today. If you haven’t already completed our survey (in your email inbox with the subject line: College of Medicine Faculty – Self-Identification Survey), please take the time to do so.

Finally, my thoughts are with our Muslim colleagues and learners at this difficult time following the tragic events in New Zealand. It is hard to believe we continue to grapple with this level of intolerance in 2019. It is clear we must do more, even as we continue to provide education and share messages supporting compassion, understanding and tolerance.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

3 thoughts on “Collective discussion on diversity and inclusion

  1. I provided my feedback to the SMA yesterday on this excellent publication. I too was very impressed and inspired. We are excited in faculty development that Sean Polreis has completed training just last week to offer a new workshop on Everyday Bias for Healthcare Professionals. We look forward to working with sites, departments, committees and others who are interested in this new FD program.

  2. Just want you know that I read your blog all the time. I’m that kind of person love sharing thoughts with friends as well. Your words are alway encouraging. Fascinating world!!! I also saw you in our 2nd floor research day today, CoM, you were walking around to read posters and talking to students. We need people pay attention to our research, care about us and tell them we are making small progress. By the way, please share more books you have read, I would love to read them one day, too. Thank you very much.

  3. Thanks Dean Smith for your on-going support of the SMA. It is truly appreciated.

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