Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Action is a monthly column that aims to highlight the important work of each of McGovern Medical School’s Vice Chairs for Diversity and Inclusion.
Beginning in 2020, the role of Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion was created at McGovern Medical School to help demonstrate cultural awareness and knowledge and to provide vision and leadership for diversity and inclusion initiatives across each department’s various clinical, research, and teaching sites.
This month’s feature is Syed Hashmi, MD, MPH, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and director of the Bioinformatics Core of the Pediatric Research Center.
What did it mean to be named as a Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion?
First of all, in general, having a Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion means that the department is serious about ensuring that diversity and inclusion is integral to our culture and value. On a personal level, it was an honor to be selected as a vice chair and also very humbling at the same time.
I have been at UTHealth Houston for more than two decades and have witnessed how the focus on diversity and inclusion has grown over the last few years. I have seen how far we have come but also how far we have to go.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
Although we talk about “diversity” and “inclusion,” I feel the two words that underlie all we do are “acceptance and “equity” — acceptance of people, ideas, and thoughts across all possible strata and equity in the opportunities that we provide to all of our students, staff, trainees, and faculty regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what their beliefs and identities are.
Why is it important for McGovern Medical School to have the positions?
When we are accepting of all, and have a diverse body of individuals who are given the opportunity to be treated with respect, and who treat others with respect, we create an environment where there is an exchange of a diverse range of ideas and thoughts.
As an educational healthcare institution, this is critical for the three missions we have at McGovern. The diversity in ideas, thoughts, and life experiences builds a better healthcare workforce, both currently and for the future. Additionally, it makes good business sense when comparing us to peer institutions, as diversity helps us stay competitive.
Finally, important stakeholders in the whole process are our patients and their families. Having a diverse body means that we learn from each other and get better at relating to, and identifying with, our diverse patient population in Houston so that we can provide the best care possible while trying to decrease issues related to health inequity and disparities.
What are some of your duties as vice chair?
Assessing the culture within the department. Identifying areas where we can improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Working with our residency director to create an academic curriculum that values diversity and inclusion. Identifying ways that we can impact healthcare provision by our clinicians and potential areas of investigation for our researchers. Give talks and seminars on issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, microaggressions, etc.
What is your department currently doing to help create a culture of diversity and inclusion at the Medical School?
We have worked with another department and private partner to provide diversity and inclusion training modules for all personnel in the department. We are incorporating diversity and inclusion in our grand rounds.
Our residency program director, Emma Omoruyi, MD, has modified how we fill our residency spots so that we have a more holistic approach and consider diversity and inclusion in the process. We have created a system to invite speakers and create discussion groups for topics related to diversity and inclusion and much more.
Who in your department is helping you to implement your initiatives?
This is definitely not a job that I do on my own. First of all, the support of our chair, Mary Aitken, MD, is instrumental in all we do. Additionally, there is a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Council made up of staff, trainees, and faculty that meets on a regular basis to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion related issues within the department.
The administrative staff in the department have also been a great help with logistics and other assistance. Without the support, assistance, and ideas from all these individuals, we would not have accomplished all that we have.
What does your department hope to do in the future to continue building on that culture?
More of the same. Build up what we have started. Reassess the culture next year and identify where else we are lacking. Observe and learn from other departments within McGovern Medical School and at other medical schools, so that we can implement programs that are most effective.
Additionally, there are other DEI programs within various components of the Department of Pediatrics that are doing great work in health equity and diversity research related to our patient care and scholarships, for example, the Population Health Workgroup, the Children’s Learning Institute, and the Genetics Counseling Program.
Finally, a personal interest of mine is related to issues of healthcare inequality and disparities. I’m currently working on creating a program that is focused on scholarship and advocacy on issues related to that.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in beginning this initiative?
One of the biggest issues was that I was informed that I had gotten the position of vice chair a couple of months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were ideas of what we can do with small group discussions and other things that were just not possible with us working remotely. Even after we started working on campus, COVID often threw a wrench in our plans – for example, having to cancel a visiting professor due to an infection surge. So, the pandemic was the biggest challenge during the first year or so of my tenure as vice chair.