‘I Joined Because…’: Department of Medicine Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force Members Share Their Stories (Part 1)

“As a Latina in medicine, I experienced first-hand the unique challenges faced by underrepresented groups in medicine, from discrimination to lack of mentorship and role models."

“I believe the power of the health care system can and should be used to reduce the impacts of structural racism in America.”

“After participating in the White Coats for Black Lives event, I felt shameful of our past inequities in healthcare, angry about the injustice for our Black patients, and inspired to be part of the change.”


From improving minority faculty recruitment and retention to advancing health equity, the statements above are just a glimpse into why Department of Medicine faculty and staff joined our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) task force.

Established in July 2020 and chaired by Narjust Duma, MD, assistant professor, Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care, the task force identifies DEI priorities and best practices, and will soon share recommendations to spur change department-wide.

In this and the next issue of Vital Signs, we share why they chose to volunteer.

Have questions or experiences you would like to discuss with the DEI Task Force? Please reach out to Dr. Duma or any of the members directly.

In Their Own Words: DEI Task Force Members Volunteer Because…

Donna Cole

Above, Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute administrator Donna Cole

All Employees Should Have Positive, Inclusive Experiences

Donna Cole, BS, administrator, Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute

“I am very interested in looking at the lack of diversity, especially among academic staff employees in the DOM. We need to incentivize the hiring of persons of color and other folks from traditionally underserved populations. It is imperative to identify resources for retaining these employees. We must make their experiences working in the department positive and inclusive. Everyone in the department should educate themselves on social justice and our history of racism.”

 

Dr. Narjust Duma

Above, Dr. Narjust Duma at the residency program’s first DREAM pathway lecture.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are the Backbone of all my Research, Clinical, and Educational Efforts

Narjust Duma, MD, assistant professor, Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care; chair, Department of Medicine DEI task force

“As a Latina in medicine, I experienced first-hand the unique challenges faced by underrepresented groups in medicine, from discrimination to lack of mentorship and role models. Those experiences allowed me to grow and become comfortable speaking out about these issues and embracing the beauty of diversity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the backbone of all my research, clinical, and educational efforts.

“I was selected as one of the 2020 UW SMPH Centennial Scholars, and I will be conducting a national study and intervention about improving inclusion practices in medicine. My personal experiences, research background, and previous leadership roles in diversity, equity, and inclusion fuel my motivation and interest to be part of our first DEI task force.”

 

Dr. Farah Kaiksow

Above, Dr. Farah Kaiksow at the Department of Medicine’s 2019 Research Day.

We Must Reduce the Impacts of Structural Racism in Our System and Community

Farah Kaiksow, MD, MPP, assistant professor, Hospital Medicine

“I believe the power of the health care system can and should be used to reduce the impacts of structural racism in America. To successfully achieve this goal, our health care system itself must be both diverse and equitable. The same structural barriers that exist in society as a whole also exist in the UW System, and we must start with trying to fix our own shortcomings before we will be able to make a positive impact on our patients and our communities.”

 

Dr. Victoria Gillet

Above, Dr. Victoria Gillet at a 2018 residency program Morning Report.

Health Care Necessitates Diverse Experiences and Perspectives

Victoria Gillet, MD, primary care chief resident

“My experience with the Department of Medicine has uniformly uplifted, protected, and supported my academic goals. I was extremely disappointed to realize how many house staff and faculty in the department, particularly those who are non-white, could not feel similarly to me because of experiences cheapened by microaggressions, cultural isolation, and inadequate mentorship.

“Healthcare is an exceptionally complex and challenging field, necessitating a diversity of experiences and perspectives to address it comprehensively. If the department truly seeks to advance the health of all people in Wisconsin, as is our stated mission, we must recruit and retain a diverse workforce. This can only be accomplished through department-level improvements in hiring and environmental practices, of which this task force is a key initial step. I am so excited about the opportunity to shape our strategy to achieve our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.”

 

Dr. Briana Jelenc, Dr. Johanna Poterala and Kathy Coppens

Above, Dr. Briana Jelenc in the clinic with internal medicine resident Dr. Johanna Poterala and medical assistant Kathy Coppens.

I Am Motivated to Make Actionable, Concrete and Positive Changes

Briana Jelenc, MD, clinical assistant professor, General Internal Medicine

“After participating in the White Coats for Black Lives event, I felt shameful of our past inequities in healthcare, angry about the injustice for our Black patients, and inspired to be part of the change. I have always passed opportunities to help with diversity initiatives in the past. Still, I am now motivated to make actionable, concrete and positive changes to help break down the systemic racism in our healthcare system and to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive group of providers in medicine at UW.”

 

Sheri Lawrence

Above, Sheri Lawrence, MBA, at a 2017 Department of Medicine Town Hall.

All Should Feel Welcome and Have Opportunities for Professional Growth

Sheri Lawrence, MBA, CMPE, administrator

“As the administrative leader of the department, it is crucial to me that the voices of our faculty/staff are heard and that they feel supported. As I work with faculty leaders on recruitment and retention issues, I want to ensure that all feel welcome and have appropriate opportunities for professional growth in the department. My goal is that the Department of Medicine is viewed as the 'employer of choice' for our faculty and staff.”

 

Banner photo: Dr. Narjust Duma, pictured above leading the residency program’s first DREAM pathway lecture, chairs the Department of Medicine’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) task force. Credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine