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Archive February 2021 XXII, No. 2

Diversity, Equality & Inclusion: Essential Elements of Healthcare Equality

Building a more just system requires widespread and purposeful action.

Paris Butler

Paris Butler, MD, MPH, FACS


Penn Medicine
VOICE FOR CHANGE Efforts to increase representation among providers should include open forums that promote communication and connection.

Challenges still exist in providing equitable access to health care for all people. This has been evident during the pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos. Healthcare systems are key anchors of local communities and have the platforms to push for a more equitable society. By following these action steps, your facility can help drive the change that's needed throughout the nation.

  • Recognize the need. Conduct self-assessments of your own space instead of always looking outward at society. It's important to support national efforts and movements, but it's equally important to assess how all patients, staff and surgeons feel when they walk through your facility's doors. Are you doing all you can to make them feel welcome and recognized, regardless of their skin color? Is inequality present in your daily practices, even if it isn't overt? The challenges we've faced as a nation over the past year have made these conversations easier to have.
  • Empower employees. A single diversity officer should not be given the sole responsibility of carrying out DEI efforts for a large facility or health system. That's how it was done in the past, but the model did not move the needle far enough or fast enough. If we're going to make meaningful change happen, the effort in individual facilities has to be widespread and coordinated.

In many institutions, DEI officers are viewed as running tagalong programs and asked to chime in intermittently about the organization's efforts, which aren't woven into the fabric of the day-to-day. DEI representatives should be present in every department throughout a health system to prioritize equality programs and make them an integral part of daily activities.

Efforts need to be championed and furthered by a group of frontline workers who are determined to make positive change happen, and who have DEI goals listed among their regular responsibilities. A network of dedicated individuals, regardless of their titles and leadership status, helps drive entire staffs toward a more equitable workplace culture.

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