Dear Students, Residents, Fellows, Faculty, and Staff,
I am truly overwhelmed and moved by the many, many comments I received after sending my June 1 email. Each message meant a lot to me, and I was deeply grateful for the feelings and stories you shared.
Many have asked, “What are we doing? What can we do?” People want programs in place, opportunities provided, and understandably, they want to see results. We at the School of Medicine have been doing things for quite a while and in this message, I want to remind you of what we’ve put into place and what we’ve accomplished.
As background, when I came to UVA in 2015, I came with a passion for identifying and mentoring promising young people of color with a desire to go into medicine. I had had strong mentors who gave me opportunities to meet influential leaders and advance my career, who instilled a strong sense of accountability and focus on excellence, and I wanted to do the same for others. My passion was rewarded with the opportunity in 2013 to serve as the National Program Director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program. I am an alumnus of the program, which mentors physician scientists from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds to become leaders in academic medicine and science.
In my first meeting with the Health System Board, I addressed the value of diversity among our learners, faculty, and staff. This was a topic I put in front of the board repeatedly because I wanted to emphasize that all of us benefit when diversity and inclusion are embraced.
The changes we implemented added to the good work that was already in progress when I arrived, primarily in education and faculty development. Undergraduate medical education, in particular, had already put measures into place that made a significant difference in the diversity of our student population. These included establishing relationships with other organizations to create pipeline and mentoring programs for pre-med programs; changes in the Admissions Committee and how it operated; and adding an admissions supplemental application essay question that asked, “How will you contribute to diversity at the UVA SOM?”
An outcome of these and other measures took our percentage of students who were underrepresented in medicine from about 5% in 2008 to 24% today. This is a remarkable change.
More recently we established the Diversity Consortium and built new connections to the SOM Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Every department now has a diversity liaison and diversity plans. Diversity Days and Second Looks are important for student and resident applicants to connect with enrolled students, residents, faculty, and community members to get a better sense of how they would do at UVA and in Charlottesville.
These efforts have made an impact. We have seen increases in our underrepresented residents (from 7% in 2014-15 to 12% in 2018-19) and fellows (from 6% to 15% for the same time periods.) In 2014-15, our faculty included 45 underrepresented minorities, and today we have 64. These increases have come about because we value diversity and have taken specific steps to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in our candidate pools.
For those of you who have been at UVA for a while, I hope you can see changes when you walk the hallways. Where there were once rows and rows of mostly white, mostly male faces that lined the halls of many departments, you now can see photos of faculty and students who represent the people who are in the departments today, which includes women and people of color, and the people we serve. The School’s website shows people of color as students, graduate trainees, and faculty. The hospital walls have images of people who look like the patients we see each day. The optics confirm what the welcome banner says – discrimination and prejudice have no place here.
I’m not going to list numbers and awards (although I can share them later, if you like). We have made a lot of progress, and we know there is still much to do. We have to work on the pipeline. When we’re recruiting, faculty and trainee candidates share concerns about living in Charlottesville. How will they fit in? Will their partners have meaningful work or will their children find friends at school? Where will they worship? Where will they get their hair cut?
What You Can Do
Some of you have asked what you can do. I suggest – adhere to your principles. Hold others accountable for their statements and action. Pay attention to your language, expressions, and actions. Welcome with warmth and sincerity the people who are different from you. Get involved in the Diversity Consortium, or participate in Second Look and Diversity Days. Speak up when you see someone treating another with disrespect. These seemingly small steps add up.
And simply put, thank you.
David S. Wilkes, MD
Dean, UVA School of Medicine
James Carroll Flippin Professor of Medical Science