Physicians need to commit to diversity

Joan Y. Reede, MD, MS, MPH, MBA
Joan Y. Reede, MD, MS, MPH, MBA

The challenge of bringing increased diversity to the physician workforce is not the responsibility of a specific committee or task force. Everyone in the medical profession has a role to play, according to Joan Y. Reede, MD, MS, MPH, MBA, who will deliver Tuesday’s annual Olga M. Jonasson Lecture, A Path Toward Diversity, Inclusion, and Excellence.

Furthermore, promoting diversity and creating practice environments that encourage inclusiveness is not just about doing what’s right by societal standards, said Dr. Reede, dean for diversity and community partnership and professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston. It’s about doing what’s right for the medical profession, for the advancement of science, and ultimately, for the health of patients.

“Diversity is about bringing different perspectives and different ideas to the table when dealing with complex issues or attempting to solve complex problems, which is what we do every day as physicians,” said Dr. Reede, who is also professor of society, human development, and health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and assistant in health policy, Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s important that we understand the value of diversity and what it has meant to us in the past, what it means to us today, and, perhaps most importantly, what it means for our future.”

Although the demographic landscape of medicine is slowly changing, Dr. Reede said more emphasis is needed to ensure that the changing demographics of the country are reflected in the demographics of U.S. medical students.

“As we think about the young people who are going to be our future physicians, clinicians, and surgeons, they are going to be coming from diverse backgrounds and diverse parts of our country,” she said. “They are our future, and we need to ensure that those individuals with potential and motivation come into our field. The youth of today are increasingly diverse and they are the future leaders in our specialties tomorrow.”

Dr. Reede said the growing number of community outreach programs for minority and underrepresented teens and adolescents interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers are an important first step. But she said that the current generation of medical leaders and educators also must be committed to providing career guidance and mentorship and to opening pathways that encourage and increase diversity in leadership roles.

“We’re going in the right direction, but as we move forward and think about diversity, we must bring to our deliberations the same level of rigor that we bring to everything else that we do in medicine,” Dr. Reede said. “It’s about our values, our viability, and maintaining excellence. And it’s up to each and every one of us to understand that advancing diversity is not just about the individuals that you’ve helped, but that you are actually helping your institution, helping our field, and helping the progress of medicine to improve the health of entire populations.”

The Olga M. Jonasson Lecture was established by the Women in Surgery Committee to honor the memory of Olga M. Jonasson, MD, FACS, who died in August 2006. The lectureship is a testimony to leadership and education in surgery and a reflection of the capacity of women to reach academic pinnacles.