Leadership Matters – Part II
This blog is more on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Annual Meeting, Learn, Serve, Lead 2019, that I recently attended in Phoenix, and most importantly about the work of our CoM Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. As I noted in my previous blog, the audience at the meeting included medical education and healthcare leaders, clinicians and educators. We all benefited from amazing speakers, both from within and outside medicine, who talked about activism, advocacy and change and called on all to advance the fight against inequity, injustice and racism in academic medicine and the healthcare system. One recurrent theme was their call on leaders to be accountable for leading change towards greater equity, justice, and excellence in healthcare—and we were reminded that we will never have the last without the first two.
While many speakers emphasized leadership qualities like humility, curiosity and empathy, it was always in the context that good leadership is essential for success in any organization or enterprise. A number of the speakers talked about racism in the United States and the profound impact it has on health inequity. This included the plenary speaker, Bryan Stevenson, highlighted in my last blog. I was constantly reminded, of course, of our own challenges in Canada of racism and health inequity of Indigenous people. This extends to other groups in our college and country, including those with disabilities, those who identify as LGBTQ, and others.
Another great speaker was Dr. David R. Williams, Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In his talk, Racism, Medicine and Health: We Must Do Better Than This, he too did a remarkable job of weaving data and stories together to illustrate the connections between race, socio-economic status and health (again it hit far too close to home!), and of equipping us with tools to change the narrative.
Dr. Williams reminded us of the innumerable ways in which racism is embedded in our culture and ourselves. Another speaker shared evidence that we are all prejudiced. And Dr. Williams reiterated how racism is based in both neuroscience and history, and some examples are truly ancient and some sadly current. Two data points stick in my mind. The first is that black Americans lag substantially behind white Americans in annual income (I must rely on my memory, but recall it was around 60 per cent), but when it comes to wealth for every dollar held by a white person, just seven cents is held by a black person! The second data point was that the pre-term birth rate for Latino women has risen since 2016—I will let that one speak for itself!
Another overriding theme of the conference was that when it comes to diversity and the challenges of racism, leadership must come from the top. Repeated stories of success in many organizations emphasized that senior leadership must be advocates for change on diversity and racism. I and the leadership of the CoM are committed to being nation leaders on advancing diversity and inclusion. In that regard I would like to highlight the work of our Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG).
The group was formed in 2017 and its membership includes faculty, senior leadership, and administrative staff, who (in accordance with the DIWG’s Terms of Reference) reflect greater representation of under-represented groups within the College of Medicine. The working group is charged with: developing a plan that aligns with the University of Saskatchewan’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan; putting the plan into action through the development of initiatives and projects to promote the diversity objectives indicated in the plan, and; operationalizing elements of the University of Saskatchewan Diversity and Inclusion Plan that may require unique operational processes due to the province-wide mandate of the College of Medicine. More information about diversity and inclusion in our college, including the just-released annual report of the DIWG, is available on our college website.
I would also like to highlight the work of our Research Equity and Diversity Specialist in the Office of the Vice-Dean Research, and the upcoming Balance and Belonging Speaker Series. Ensuring that the College of Medicine supports a research community in which everyone is represented and supported is vital for increased innovation, relevance, creativity, and impact. The Speaker Series, which offers three presentations over the course of the year, will also offer a Certificate of Attendance to attendees of all three sessions. This initiative is unique in comparison to other universities in Canada and demonstrates the commitment the College of Medicine has, not only to addressing equity, diversity and inclusion in our research, but also to improving inclusiveness and enabling our faculty and staff to feel more welcome and valued at work.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
We now have a full team on the Dean’s Executive with the addition of Dr. Marilyn Baetz as the Vice-Dean Faculty Engagement. I and the vice-deans of faculty engagement, research and education, and the chief operating officer all look forward to hearing from our staff, faculty and students from all backgrounds and groups you identify with—your identity is yours. We hope that identity includes the College of Medicine! And if not, that you will tell us what we can do to make that happen.