You Belong Here
At the forefront of all decision making for Saint Louis University School of Medicine’s Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Daniel Blash, Ph.D. are three little words, “You belong here.” His job is to foster, nurture and develop a culture and environment of belonging for everyone within the School of Medicine.
“When matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion are nurtured throughout the entire institution, everyone benefits… the work of diversity, equity and inclusion will reach its full potential when it can be seen and felt at all levels of the institution; it must be a part of the fabric of the place.”
Unlike many institutions and organizations that pay lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Blash and his team are putting promises into action, “proactively championing the importance and value of a diverse and inclusive campus climate at the School of Medicine,” explains Dr. Blash.
“Ultimately, our aim is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of god, and we do that better when there is diversity at every level.”Daniel Blash, Ph.D.
With the nation facing a reckoning around inequity, Saint Louis University is committed to ensuring that those who have been underrepresented in medicine—both from a practitioner and patient standpoint—have an equitable and inclusive experience when they walk through the doors of the School of Medicine.
“Ultimately, our aim is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God, and we do that better when there is diversity at every level,” says Dr. Blash.
Overview, Mission, Purpose
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) oversees the School of Medicine’s efforts to promote inclusion for the medical school community, with programs, events, and initiatives designed to raise awareness, inspire action, support equitable employment, and cultivate a culture of diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Blash understands the mission as much more.
“We are here to support the tri-fold mission of the School of Medicine, which revolves around education, research, and patient care. Our goal is to become a world-class institution as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. This translates into people seeking us out as a destination for training, employment, and care because of our reputation as not only an excellent school but an inclusive and welcoming one. It’s about making sure that this is a level playing field conducive for growth and development—for all.”
The mission of the ODEI is now much broader than its predecessor, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which focused exclusively on students. While the ODEI has maintained that critical piece of its work, the scope has broadened—both in terms of whom it serves and how it serves them. The ODEI’s primary functions are to strengthen diversity recruitment and retention efforts, develop and promote internal talent, create and support mentoring programs, offer diversity education and training opportunities, partner with other offices and departments across campus, and increase collaboration between the School of Medicine and the St. Louis community.
The ODEI’s role is to identify and remove obstacles creating a level playing field—wherever they arise. “Recently, a resident contacted me,” says Dr. Blash. “He was a third-year on his way to a fellowship. He said to me, ‘I was there for three years without any mentoring as a minority.’ And those are precisely the types of challenges we are trying to solve. Case in point: we now have a mentoring program specifically for minority students.”
2020 has brought the work of the ODEI into sharper focus. Across the backdrop of a global pandemic and racial unrest, the School of Medicine has invested significant resources into the ODEI.
“It has a lot of momentum behind it,” says Dr. Blash of the Office. “And my tendency is to go big. I think, Mission Possible.” With a comprehensive set of innovative initiatives to propel diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Blash and the ODEI team has set the stage for powerful change at the School of Medicine.
The ODEI has bold ideas for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School of Medicine, and among students, faculty, staff and the community. Among the initiatives are intentional leadership decisions and staffing patterns, training and professional development, increased scholarships and opportunities for minority students and faculty, and events, forums, and lecture series that address relevant issues.
Leadership and Staff
There are currently two diversity councils, a LCME Diversity Council and the Dean’s Executive Diversity Council. The first, which consists of students, staff, and faculty, supports the School of Medicine with the development and implementation of goals, and works to drive impactful change across academic and administrative operations, while the second, composed of senior stakeholders, is empowered to authorize change. With the recent appointments of Marilyn Maxwell, M.D., as the Assistant Dean of Admissions, and Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D., as the Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the ODEI is already transforming words into action by hiring from within communities of color.
Additionally, the ODEI is expanding its staff to include a Program Director for Staff and Community Engagement who will be responsible for developing and maintaining recruitment pipelines and retention programs for underrepresented minorities, as well as engaging the St. Louis community to help mitigate healthcare disparities.
Beyond the walls of SLU, the ODEI is part of a larger diversity collaborative that works within the context of other Jesuit Medical Schools, working together to share resources, ideas and best practices.
Training and Professional Development
In August, the ODEI launched two mandatory training series for the entire School of Medicine. The first program consists of four sessions that explore systemic and institutional racism and methodologies to dismantle it. The second program focuses on unconscious bias and will become an important component of onboarding. Additionally, there are other opportunities for education around diversity, equity, and inclusion, including a 12-week program to help educate and shine light on racial injustices, various lunch and learns around relevant topics, and Onboarding 101, which provides management training for best practices of onboarding individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Increased Opportunities for Minority Students and Faculty
In 2019, a Saint Louis University alumnus and SLUCare physician, Duane Moore, M.D., and his wife, Katrina Thompson Moore, Ph.D., of SLU’s Department of History, established the John Meachum Scholarship Fund to honor the achievements of a pioneering African American St. Louis leader and to help medical students who hail from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The School of Medicine is also home to the Summer Scholars Program, which was designed to encourage high school students from diverse backgrounds to pursue health-related careers.
Additionally, the ODEI is currently working with the development office to increase scholarship opportunities for underrepresented minority students, helping to diversify the student body to more accurately reflect the population served by the School of Medicine.
“The School of Medicine invites 60-90 underrepresented minorities into each class, which is approximately half of the entering class,” says Dr. Blash. “However, only 15-20 minority students enroll because of funding. So scholarships are the most significant tool for increasing the number of underrepresented minority physicians who are trained at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.”
But beyond scholarship opportunities, institutions must be proactive about creating a supportive environment that furthers retention.
“Emotional safety is probably the number one rationale for why people of color choose where they go for training,” says Dr. Blash. “Remember once they are finished with their training, they are entering a field where their representation is less than 6%. They will likely be the only person of color in their department or division. So, it is incumbent on us to not only convey a message of support and advocacy, but to act on it as well.”
The ODEI has developed programming to foster a more inclusive environment for students and faculty from diverse backgrounds. Initiatives include hosting Campus Climate Open Forum for underrepresented minority residents and faculty to discuss and share their thoughts on campus climate at the School of Medicine, supporting the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) through networking events and one-on-one meetings, formally pairing underrepresented minority staff with a faculty member or ally within the School of Medicine through the Mentoring in Medicine program, which provides an opportunity for minority faculty to guide minority students around issues related to navigating the academic environment, social/emotional wellness and other related topics.
Events and Lecture Series
Integral to cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusion is educating the community on issues of race and equity and maintaining an open dialogue. To that end, the ODEI launched the John H. Gladney lecture series, which provides an opportunity to gather, discuss, and learn from experts in an area related to health, health disparity, public health, and minority influences in improving healthcare and wellness. The lecture series and corresponding recognition dinner are named in honor of the late John H. Gladney, M.D., a well-known and respected member of the medical community who served as chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, the first African American to hold the position of Chairman of a basic science or clinical department.
Dr. Gladney was deeply committed to improving diversity at the University and within the field of medicine and was a pioneer in his field. Other events include a quarterly book club around relevant topics, an annual ODEI Family Fun Run/Walk welcoming SLU, SLUCare, and the surrounding community to come together to promote health and fun. Please visit https://www.slu.edu/medicine/diversity/news-and-events.php for more information on upcoming events.
We discovered weaknesses within our environment. It is our duty to listen with an open heart and mind; actively find, develop, and implement solutions; and ultimately transform those weaknesses into strengths.”Daniel Blash, Ph.D.
The curriculum is undergoing significant changes as well. Part of the school’s efforts includes new lectures, such as Race in Medicine, the Social Determinants of Health, and a simulation of how poverty impacts healthcare. There are many more initiatives on the horizon, including better representation of people of color throughout the School of Medicine.
A Microcosm of America; A Leader in Diversity
As tensions increased throughout the summer during a time of unprecedented protests and unrest, the Saint Louis University School of Medicine was part of the larger dialogue. Many at the School were unhappy with the lack of representation of people of color, the health disparities among the Black population in St. Louis, and the lack of minority leaders.
“So they began to demand institutional change,” says Dr. Blash. “And the institution responded by listening, acknowledging the problems, and coming up with a plan to fix them.” Further, in a time of economic crisis as a result of the pandemic, the ODEI engaged with the St. Louis community at large, supporting local businesses owned by people of color, donating funds to support workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and developing other ways to engage with the underserved Black community in the city.
“The Saint Louis University community is a microcosm of America, so we are impacted the same way as the nation as a whole,” says Dr. Blash. “We discovered weaknesses within our environment. It is our duty to listen with an open heart and mind; actively find, develop, and implement solutions; and ultimately transform those weaknesses into strengths.”
With the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the helm of that transformation, the School of Medicine at Saint Louis University is making strides toward becoming an even more equitable space for learning, teaching and discovery.