First Diversity Week at Stanford Medicine tackles tough topics in medical education, health care

Stanford Medicine community members remotely attended a weeklong series of talks, panels and workshops on reducing disparities and improving diversity in health care and medical education.

To mark the occasion of the LGBTQ+ Forum in October, an exterior staircase at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge was decorated, and rainbow-colored flags adorned balcony railings.
Carmen Azevedo

When Reena Thomas, MD, PhD, associate dean for diversity in medical education, came up with the idea for Diversity Week, the concept was simple: Unite several of Stanford Medicine’s diversity and inclusion events into one week of livestreamed talks. The topics the week would address, however, were anything but simple.

During the week of Oct. 5-9, Stanford Medicine leaders, faculty and students discussed some of the toughest topics around diversity in medical education and health care in seven livestreamed talks, panels and workshops that featured guest speakers from across the United States.

Exploring, evaluating diversity

The way we define diversity, equity and inclusion affects how it manifests in our medical schools and health care systems, some of the speakers pointed out. This topic was the focal point of the keynote talk by Jonathan Mathias Lassiter, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Rowan University, who discussed the concept of intersectionality at the LGBTQ+ Forum on Oct. 7

“I am the grandson of a sharecropper. I am a first-generation college student and the first doctor in my family,” Lassiter said.

“I am a Black, same-gender-loving man who is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, health-inequity scientist, author, choreographer, uncle, pet parent and husband,” he continued, driving home the idea that a person’s identity cannot be reduced to a single race, gender or class. 

Jonathan Lassiter

People are a composite of many interconnected identities, Lassiter said, and taking an “intersectional” point of view is helpful in assessing how diverse, equitable and inclusive a workplace is. As an example, Lassiter described a case study of a particular organization that touted the number of women and people of color in their workforce. 

 The “statistics sound great on the surface, but … when we look at the data from an intersectional perspective, we see that the women in the organization are mostly white women, and the largest group of men in their organization is white men,” Lassiter said. 

 “When organizations say, ‘We've increased our numbers of women,’ who are those women?” Lassiter said. Similarly, when groups claim, “’We've increased our numbers of people of color,’ who’s included in [their definition of] people of color?” These are the questions that the framework of intersectionality helps us address, Lassiter said.

Diversity, equity and inclusion in medical education

We have to be willing to employ the same kind of rigor we apply to studies of science and medicine to efforts designed to eliminate bias and racism and promote diversity and inclusion, several speakers said.

In 2017, a 10-month program called Leadership, Education and Advancing Diversity, or LEAD, was created to pair Stanford Medicine residents and fellows with mentors who are Stanford Medicine faculty or educational administrators. 

“I had no idea how impactful this work would be,” Carmin Powell, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, told attendees at the Diversity and Inclusion Forum on Oct. 9. Powell co-directs LEAD with Lahia Yemane, MD. 

Every month, LEAD’s participants take part in discussion-based lectures on various topics related to equity, diversity and inclusion. They also work with their mentors to develop a presentation to deliver at the annual Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

 In just four years, LEAD has tripled in size, growing from 30 scholars and mentors to more than 100, Powell said. Part of the program’s success is its engagement with medical residents and fellows early in their careers, making equity, diversity and inclusion a part of their training.

Knowledge is key

Educating yourself on the history of racism and how to foster diversity and inclusion is essential, said Marc Nivet, executive vice president for institutional advancement at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and keynote speaker at this year’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

“If you get nothing else out of today’s talk, I would just implore you to read and to get educated,” Nivet said. 

“You can no longer be an effective leader, period — not just in academic medicine — but period, without being much more elevated in your ability to understand these issues,” he said. “And that comes from reading and learning.”

Learning, trying new things and sharing what does — and doesn’t— work is important for progress, Nivet explained. “I think we don’t share the results of failure, which is typical in academic medicine. We don’t get points for writing about failures or initiatives that didn’t work and why they didn’t work. And that’s just unfortunate, and I think it has blunted progress.”

“I’m pleased to hear that there will be some evaluation of the work that’s happening there at Stanford, and that’s to be commended,” he said. He added he hopes that “Stanford makes that available — the good, the bad and the ugly of this work, because it will benefit all of us.”



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