Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion: Q&A with David J. Brown, M.D.

January 8, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Later this month, the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI) will host the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium in the Dow Auditorium. The event is just one of many ways in which the office seeks to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across the academic medical center.

Headlines recently caught up with the head of OHEI — David J. Brown, M.D. — to discuss DEI efforts on campus and the challenges and successes Michigan Medicine has experienced when it comes to diversity. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Can you explain the role that OHEI plays at Michigan Medicine?

DB: When I tell people about our office, I make sure that they understand our vision, which is ultimately to create an environment at Michigan Medicine where people feel valued and can thrive. We do so by acting as a compass when it comes to navigating all things related to diversity, equity and inclusion. We provide faculty, staff and learners with DEI awareness tools, such as educational programming and special events designed to ensure that equity exists across the academic medical center.

Overall, our mission is to foster an environment of respect that honors the uniqueness of all who work, learn and heal at Michigan Medicine.

Q: What are some of the greatest challenges Michigan Medicine faces when it comes to diversity in relation to other progressive industries? 

DB: The vastness of our academic medical center poses some communication challenges, which makes our job of effectively reaching everyone difficult at times. Because it is so important for OHEI to provide every member of the Michigan Medicine community with a platform to be heard, we are constantly modifying and improving our modes of communication as we continue to grow.

The other major challenge that I’ve noticed during my time with OHEI is that we need to help people understand that DEI is not simply an afterthought, but instead an essential thread that runs throughout the beautiful tapestry that makes up Michigan Medicine.

Q: As the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan begins its second full year, what program or initiative are you most excited about?

DB: Biannually, we distribute DEI mini-grants to various departments across Michigan Medicine. Each recipient must meet certain criteria by presenting our office with their own vision of how they can amplify our shared values and promote DEI across their department(s). I really love this program because it showcases how innovative our community really is and allows for folks to truly be creative with their DEI work.

We are also looking forward to expanding our resource groups, such as the current Michigan Medicine Disability Council, a working group that is open to faculty, staff, learners and patients, and focuses on amplifying the needs and concerns for individuals with disabilities to create a more inclusive environment.

Q: How can leaders best support DEI efforts in their unit or department? 

DB: It starts with creating the right environment and giving people the tools to succeed. Leaders can encourage open forums with faculty and staff and facilitate frank conversations about inclusion, as well as valuing our differences and identifying how our various perspectives can bring strength to the team. Leaders need to set the example of making everyone feel comfortable joining the conversation and feeling their opinions are valued. Creating a platform where all voices are heard and all ideas matter is one way to help advance DEI.

Q: Since becoming associate vice president and dean for health, equity and inclusion, what has been the most rewarding part of your role?

DB: This is a difficult question for me to answer because there have been so many rewarding things about my role with OHEI. However, I do feel that we have helped create strong momentum toward changing the culture here at Michigan Medicine. And because of this, people are really beginning to take notice of our work and talk about DEI from more personal perspectives; whereas in the past, purposeful conversations weren’t taking place on a regular basis.

The sheer fact that people are proactively asking for more DEI content and direction is amazing and our new challenge has actually been keeping up with these types of requests. This is obviously a great problem to have, but we do realize that we have to continue providing support and resources to everyone in order to keep this momentum going.

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