Editor’s Pen

Diversity at the School of Medicine
Andrew D. Hollenbach, Ph.D.
Head Editor, The Pulse 

A few years ago I had the distinct honor of being invited by Dr. Dereck Rovaris, Vice Provost for Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer at LSU Baton Rouge to serve on the LSU System-wide National Diversity Advisory Board.  The role of this board is to provide external expertise to advocate diversity and inclusion throughout the LSU educational system and to foster these values on campus to drive the vision of diversity to faculty, students, staff, and surrounding communities.   

At our most recent meeting, Dereck updated the board members on the important work that he and his amazing team did in the previous six months; work that advanced the exceptional programs that he and his office run on the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge.  Sitting there, being immersed in the world of diversity and the ongoing work at the main campus, I began to think about all of the work we are doing to foster and improve diversity on our campus here in New Orleans. 

When people ask me about our efforts here at the SOM, one of the first things I tell them is that the administration supports these efforts 150%.  Dean Nelson, Dr. Maupin, Dr. DiCarlo, Dr. Lazarus, and Dr. English see diversity as something that is integral and essential to the lifeblood of who we are as an institution and that it is invaluable for the education of our students.  Because of their views, they and the many amazing people who work in their offices and serve on their committees work tirelessly to develop educational programs that provide cultural awareness in a longitudinal fashion to best prepare our students to treat the diverse populations they will meet in their future practice of medicine with empathy and humanity. 

The hard work and dedication is not limited to the efforts of our administration and faculty.  The students, too, have taken the initiative to develop new organizations and educational forums to address a need for cultural awareness.  The Pulse has covered some of these organizations in previous issues (e.g., CRAM, SAME, and LOCUS).  In this issue we include a story about the incredible work done by members of the Class of 2020 to initiate, develop, and run a Diversity Forum for the incoming class of 2021 (See “L2 Diversity Forum” in Top Stories).  These forums, which began in the first weeks of school and will be held periodically throughout the first year, use a facilitated small group/large group environment to inspire important discussions on diversity, thereby bringing an awareness of unconscious bias to the first year students to begin their process of self-reflection as they address these previously unrealized biases. 

The importance of diversity is not limited to the education we provide to the students but also extends to the environment in which the students are learning.  Many excellent programs are in place through Dr. Maupin’s Office of Diversity and Community Engagement along with outreach programs run by other faculty members.  Millions of dollars of external funding support a multitude of educational and outreach programs for underrepresented minorities (URM).  These programs provide educational outreach to all ages in regional schools (elementary to high school); provide research experiences in a variety of summer programs for high school and undergraduates; provide outreach programs to regional universities to recruit and prepare pre-medical students; and provide pre-matriculation support to facilitate the successful transition into medical school.  These efforts are ongoing and in the present issue we report the successful acquisition of yet more funding by Dr. Lisa Harrison-Bernard and her co-investigators Dr. Fern Tsien and Dr. Allison Augustus-Wallace to provide pipeline programs to educate and prepare regional URM individuals for careers in the STEM subjects.  

Finally, the administration and many of our faculty have zero tolerance for unprofessional behavior, particularly when it comes to incidences that involve derogatory speech or actions against any aspect of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, or religion.  Students and faculty need to be aware that there are many avenues available to report these incidences and that there are policies in place to address them.  If an incident is observed students can talk to a trusted faculty member, they can talk to Dr. Robin English (Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education), they can talk to the ombusdsperson Dr. Kourtnie Robin, or they can talk to Dr. Cathy Lazarus or any individual who works in her Office of Student Affairs.  If faculty observe anything, they too, can talk to any of the above people.    

Once reported, the Office of Student Affairs will work hard to determine what the consequences of the actions should be; consequences that range from simply talking to the individual to including a permanent note in their educational record.  Most importantly, everyone must understand that these proceedings are held in strictest confidence and that simply because you may not be observing a “public flogging” of those involved that you can rest assured that something is, in fact, being done to address the issue.  

As you can see we are doing a lot to address the issue of diversity at the SOM; from educating our students, to developing pipeline programs, to addressing issues that arise within the school.  Are we where we need to be with respect to diversity?  I would have to say no, we aren’t.  But then again, we aren’t alone in that situation since what institution in our country is ever where they need to be?  However, we have established many excellent curricula, programs, and policies to address the issue.  Many of us also realize that this diversity is a fluid and ever changing issue and therefore we are continually evaluating, updating, and fine-tuning these programs to best fit the needs of the school, the faculty, and most importantly the students at any given point in time.  As I sat in that board meeting, thinking about what we at the SOM are doing, I reflected with great pride and satisfaction that we are working hard, addressing the issue, and most importantly moving in the right direction.