Pursuing excellence through diversity, equity, and inclusion

A group of female Stanford ophthalmology surgeons snap a photo before surgery to celebrate the Women in Ophthalmology symposium.

Developing a diverse workforce: Building the pipeline

The year 2020 was momentous in many ways, including the heightened attention to issues of systemic injustice towards minorities that have long existed in our society. The national discussions that emerged encouraged the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford team to consider their own ongoing efforts to embrace the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of the critical ways the department does this is through the Stanford Clinical Opportunity for Residency Experience (SCORE) Program.

SCORE brings fourth-year medical students from underrepresented and minority (URM) backgrounds to Stanford for a month-long residential clinical training program at the Stanford Hospitals & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, matching them with faculty, resident mentors, and research advisors who share similar clinical interests. Byers Eye Institute has supported SCORE students each year since partnering with the program in 2016, and this past year saw the highest number of participants entered into the competitive program to date.

At Byers Eye Institute, SCORE clinical clerkship programs are led by ophthalmology faculty, and include a flexible clinical curriculum and regular didactic sessions, enabling its students to work and learn side-by-side with residents and faculty. Stanford Ophthalmology also provides clinical rotations in hospitals that expose residents to different patient populations, including the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center county hospital.

This year, challenges brought on by COVID-19 prevented students accepted into SCORE from being able to rotate in person, so the program staff and faculty had to design new virtual opportunities so that students were still able to engage with the program in a safe environment. They participated in the virtual Bay Area Ophthalmology Course at Stanford and received specialty-specific mentorship and access to the Stanford Ophthalmology Specialty career advising through the School of Medicine.

Along with mentorship activities, SCORE students are also able to engage in the same programs and activities as other Stanford medical students, such as those offered by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance, to gain a robust engagement experience during their rotation. Being able to meet and connect with other URM students and residents also establishes a network that students can carry forward. By offering a breadth of experiences, SCORE ensures both the educational and professional development of diverse students into successful residents.

Natacha Villegas, MD

Expanding cultural competence for today and the future

Natacha Villegas, MD, born and raised in Venezuela and now a second-year resident at the Byers Eye Institute, participated in a similar program to SCORE in New York during her medical school training. There, she was able to experience different subspecialties in ophthalmology, plus experience firsthand how ophthalmology departments and rotations differ across institutions. The program also allowed her to connect with a community of URM students across institutions to share their medical school journeys.

“My experience showed me how important it is to recruit diverse residents and faculty and to have diversity in our training, which helps us develop cultural competence, gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively interact with patients who are culturally and ethnically diverse,” Villegas said.

When Villegas began interviewing for residency, she looked for a program that prioritized diversity, which she quickly found at the Byers Eye Institute. According to Suzann Pershing, MD, MS, residency program director, Stanford Ophthalmology remains strongly committed to the critical importance of diversity in our residency program and to recruiting and supporting individuals from all backgrounds.

“We have realized how valuable diversity in experience and background is for our program, and for the future of our field,” Pershing said. “In the 2019-2020 academic year, our residency program was comprised of 54% female, 46% URM, 15% LGBTQ residents, and 8% international medical graduate students. This speaks to our core values in the department and in the medical school at large.”

Spreading department impact to medicine more broadly

Ann Caroline Fisher, MD, clinical associate professor of ophthalmology, serves as the director of diversity and inclusion for Byers Eye Institute as well as the Stanford Ophthalmology specialty career advisor. She sees the positive impact that SCORE has not only on its participants, but on the entire department.

“Increased recruitment of diverse trainees into academic medicine not only paves the way for a more diverse future workforce, it also enhances the educational experience of existing Stanford medical students and faculty through greater diversity of ideas and expanding our network of collaborators,” Fisher said.

Engagement with the SCORE program is just one way that the department is steadily increasing the recruitment and support of underrepresented and diverse individuals into ophthalmology residency and faculty roles. Byers Eye Institute also recently created the Committee on Ophthalmology Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to encourage dialogue about diversity and inclusion freely and openly for faculty, researchers, physicians, and staff from across the department.

Villegas said she is encouraged to see the growth Stanford has made to provide programs that diversify the clinician and faculty workforce.

“Having a diverse workforce ensures better community care for our patients and strengthens the caliber, depth, and ability of the Byers Eye Institute faculty and doctors,” Villegas said. “I am proud to be a resident at a department doing the work to make these necessary changes.”

To learn more or to apply for the SCORE program, visit med.stanford.edu/clerkships/score-program.