On May 25, 2020, the tragic death of George Floyd sparked a nation-wide call for change across the United States, including in the health care industry. From marches, to demonstrations, and the proliferation of White Coats for Black Lives, the entire profession has rallied for significant change over the past year.

“One year has passed since the murder of George Floyd, and his death has led to everlasting changes at McGovern Medical School,” said Asia McCleary-Gaddy, PhD, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and assistant professor of psychiatry. “Those everlasting changes are reflected at both the undergraduate medical education and graduate medical education level.”

In early 2021, McGovern Medical School debuted its new Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Curriculum, an answer to the growing call to step up efforts to teach how societal structures, policies, and hierarchies influence health outcomes.

“Much of the momentum and impetus for creating a new Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Theme came from a combination of student demand for more comprehensive examination of social determinants of health in their education, as well as the widespread reckoning with racial injustice and societal inequities in the summer of 2020,” said Aibana Omowunmi, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and co-director of the theme.

Students at the Medical School provided feedback about priority topics in the current medical school curriculum to help faculty enhance education and eventually recognize gaps on health disparities, vulnerable populations, and advocacy.

“We can no longer just teach about how to care for patients within the walls of clinics and hospitals, but teach students how to provide comprehensive health care to our patients, and recognize and respond to the influencing factors in our communities on health,” said Sandy McKay, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of the theme.

In August, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion created the Diversity and Equity Speaker Series, a periodical lecture series which highlights and discusses the social determinants of health. Speakers have included Mikki Hebl, PhD, Martha and Henry Malcom Lovett Chair of Psychology at Rice University and Dennis Kennedy, founder and chair of the National Diversity Council. Previous topics of discussion included “The Social Science of Inclusion at Work,” and “Diversity, Inclusion & Equity: From Words to Action,” and more.

Changes have also extended to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) at McGovern Medical School. Through common program requirements (CPRs) the ACGME Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have begun developing resources, tools, forums, and other avenues to address the recruitment and retention of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

“The ACGME recognizes the importance of increasing diversity in the physician workforce, and how it can positively impact health care access and patient outcomes,” said Samuel Luber, MD, assistant dean for Graduate Medical Education and executive vice-chair of Academic Affairs. “Our GME leadership is collaborating with  the McGovern Medical School Office of Diversity and Inclusion to provide resources and opportunities for our training programs.”

With new prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the house staff has also dedicated a new position for residents that would advise on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented trainees while emphasizing the importance of structural competency in teaching and learning.

Additionally, McGovern Medical School announced faculty as inaugural Vice Chairs for Diversity and Inclusion in the Fall of 2020. The role of these vice chair is to demonstrate cultural awareness and knowledge, and to provide vision and leadership for diversity and inclusion initiatives across the department’s various clinical, research, and teaching sites.

The vice chairs will play a role in the recruitment of future faculty and staff by providing effective strategies for identifying diverse candidates while working with faculty and staff search committees as well as residency and fellowship program leaders — working with each to address biases in screening and selection processes.

Members of the McGovern Medical School community who may be experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other issues as a result of the past year are encouraged to seek wellness initiatives supplied courtesy of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.