By Srijesa Khasnabish, OMS-IV

In honor of Global Diversity Awareness Month this October, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what diversity means to me. As a child, this term was unfamiliar. By high school, I heard this term used more frequently around me, but only thought of it in the context of race and ethnicity. In college, my definition expanded to include many other dimensions of diversity such as sex, gender and language. Now, as a fourth-year medical student, diversity is something I am actively seeking in the residency programs I am applying to.

To continue my journey of reflection about diversity, I reached out to Tejal Patel, DO, the 2021 recipient of the ACOFP Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award. Dr. Patel is a clinical assistant dean at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is also faculty with OhioHealth Doctors Hospital Family Medicine Residency.

Thanks for agreeing to chat with me today, Dr. Patel. What does diversity in medicine mean to you?

To me, diversity in medicine means diversifying our workforce of healthcare providers to reflect the community we serve. Diverse teams have shown to be more capable of solving complex problems than homogenous teams. Health care is moving toward a more team-based, interprofessional model that values the contributions of a range of provider perspectives in improving patient outcomes. And in the biomedical research enterprise, we see that investigators ask different research questions based on their own backgrounds and experiences. This implies that finding solutions to diseases that affect specific populations will require a diverse pool of biomedical researchers and providers.

I love how you highlight the power that comes with a diverse team of providers and researchers. What steps has your practice taken to create an environment that embraces the various types of diversity of your patient population?

In our community-based clinic, we have been creating a more inclusive environment for our patients by removing environmental macroaggressions. We are opting for images that better reflect our patients, changing out seating to accommodate different body types, using more pictograms to speak to a broad range of literacy levels and languages, streamlining interpreter services to holistically care for the patient from start of visit to check-out. We are also training and re-training our residents and staff to identify heteronormative and binary assumptions in our written and spoken communication with each other and our patients. There is still room to grow—to create protocols to support families in coordinating care and improving accessibility for the caregivers and dependents, working more closely with our care management team to further address social determinants of health and continuing to partner with our outpatient pharmacist to creatively assist patients with the cost of medications.

Thank you for sharing these action items—it really shows how small enhancements can create the momentum necessary for impactful change. I know as a child at the pediatrician’s office, I would be overjoyed to see images of people with the same skin color as me. My last question is: What advice do you have for trainees trying to round out their DEI knowledge?

Diversity, equity and inclusion can start with you as an individual. I have found that introspection has led me to ask more thoughtful questions in group settings, because I am challenging myself to look beyond my own perspectives and experiences. Step outside your comfort zone and—for a moment—turn the lens on yourself. What privileges and challenges have you experienced in prior aspects of your life, as well as while you work through your career?

At a microscopic level, continue to ask yourself these questions and reflect on how your own experiences may compare to others who may identify differently. At a macroscopic level, immerse yourself into groups within your school/work/community that will expose you to new cultures and new ideas. Find blogs, videos, publications, podcasts that teach you about cultures and your community. Attend conferences and lectures that diversify your knowledge base. Ask your institution(s) what they are doing to support DEI and join those efforts if you are able. Ultimately, allow yourself to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, and stay curious.

I agree that constant reflection is key to self-growth, and I have found that I grow the most when I push myself to work through those uncomfortable moments of ignorance.

Now that Dr. Patel has given us all a call to action this Global Diversity Awareness Month, I challenge you to ask yourself what you are doing to support DEI efforts on an individual and community level. Please feel free to share below in the comments section.

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