Faculty, staff and students reflect on importance of diversity in medicine
In celebration of Black History Month, Headlines sat down with faculty, staff and students from across the organization to discuss the importance of diversity in medicine, who they have looked up to during their careers and to find out any advice they wanted to offer the next generation of minority leaders.
Here’s what they had to say:
Phyllis Blackman, M.B.A.
Director, Office for Health Equity and Inclusion
Headlines: Who were your role models as you progressed through your career? What made you look up to them?
Blackman: When I look at my foundation, I have to acknowledge both my father and my uncle. Through watching them, I grew up knowing that I could succeed in anything I put my mind to — not only here at Michigan Medicine, but in my life as a whole.
Both of them were born and raised in Mississippi and came to Michigan in the early to mid-1950s. My father eventually became a highly-respected supervisor in the Department of Pathology at Michigan Medicine, and my uncle became a revered researcher, teacher and instructor in the Department of Surgery. To this day, Surgery still honors outstanding researchers within their department with an award in my uncle’s name, James W. Crudup.
Back when they started their careers, times were incredibly different for African Americans; both of them faced discrimination and unfair treatment simply because of the color of their skin. And while neither had formal training when it came to health care, they knew they could achieve their dreams through perseverance, dedication and commitment — and I often use their drive as motivation in my own life. I am honored to now serve as the director of the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, where we actively promote an inclusive environment throughout the academic medical center. While there is still so much more work to be done, it truly feels like things have come full circle, in a way, because I can uphold the values of equity every single day through my work.
Associate hospital director, UH/CVC
Headlines: What advice would you offer to minorities who will be in our next generation of leaders?
Cole-Brown: In 1990, I started my career in the field of health care management. Although many years have passed, I remain one of the few minorities at the leadership table. I continue to use my seat at the table as an opportunity to bring my uniqueness, individuality and diverse perspective to discussions and decisions. I often reflect on the path that has been paved by many generations, whose tremendous and heroic sacrifices have allowed me and others to be at the table.
My advice to the next generation of leaders: capitalize on the vast opportunities that have been afforded to you through education, job training and skill development. Never grow tired and weary because the path you seek to follow is hard and sometimes uncharted. Commit to making a difference in the world — in your own way — and remember those who preceded you. Be the tool to create a path for others to follow so that they, too, can have a seat at the table.
Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D.
Clinical assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; faculty lead, Medical Student Success, Office for Health Equity and Inclusion
Headlines: Why is diversity so important at an organization like Michigan Medicine?
Okanlami: We live in an increasingly diverse nation, with patients, providers and staff bringing in their own thoughts, traditions, preconceived notions and biases. I’ve often heard people say that we need a diverse work environment that is “representative of the population that we serve,” but too often that sentiment is mistaken for sacrificing quality for quotas.
I believe that every individual has an identity that is multifaceted, and this intersectionality of identities is based on one’s experiences, helps to form one’s beliefs and is demonstrated by one’s skills. I, for example, am a Christian, a father, a physician, a person with a disability, a Nigerian, a Wolverine … A diversity of thought pushes organizations like Michigan Medicine to exercise the scientific method that many of us learned in our training; encouraging people to make observations, ask questions and seek the best solutions that benefit the most people.
U-M medical student
Headlines: What wisdom do you have for future minority medical students?
Jamerson: First, seek to be understood, but not at the detriment of learning from others. As minority scholars, we become so accustomed to making others more cognizant of sensitivities, distrust and customs within our own communities, we often forget to learn about other minority populations.
Next, continue to create avenues for increased representation in medicine and become active in leadership. Every student has the ability to shape medical education, whether by holding a position on student council, serving on a committee for the Curriculum for Health Disparities, or directing one of the student free run clinics.
Finally, know that you belong here and carry that with confidence. There will be times when people make you feel less than deserving of being a medical student and some will believe that the only reason you gained admission is for the sole purpose of increasing diversity numbers. They are wrong. You earned your spot. Most importantly, an entire committee advocated for you to be here today so that you can change the face of health care tomorrow. The future of patient care needs you; you are the driving force behind cultural humility and competency in the medical community.
Director, Environmental Services
Headlines: Who left an impact on you as you progressed through your career?
Hughes: My role models were my father, uncles and all the men at my church and school who displayed strong character and work ethic. When I was preparing to enter high school, a family friend, Dr. Adrian Westney, visited my home. He had just become the headmaster of a small historical African American boarding school, Pine Forge Academy. The school was established in 1948 and was located on 500 acres of rolling hills in Pine Forge, Pa. It was on those hallowed grounds, a site of the Underground Railroad, that my journey truly began. Away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, I learned the true meaning of responsibility, hard work and sacrifice.
The school motto to this day is, “Excellence is No Accident.” Pine Forge challenged me to be the best that I could be and left me with the idea that “With God, all things are possible.” Those ideas have helped carry me through college, post-graduate studies and my time at Michigan Medicine. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to return to campus and meet with current students about the important role Pine Forge played in my life and the important lessons I have learned over the years.