How Emergency Departments Can Embrace Diversity, Inclusion

In response to the article “Black MD” by Jenice Forde-Baker, MD, FACEP, the need to prove one‘s ability and capability as a physician in certain patient encounters resonated with me as an African-American woman physician and, I am sure, other minority groups. The author speaks of her painful dismissal as a black woman and her need to justify her credentials. These realities are not new, given the history of African-Americans and other racial, ethnic, and other minority groups—such as the Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis in black men noted by the author and the more recent story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco famer whose cells, known as HeLa cells, were used without her knowledge for developing the polio vaccine. The patient-physician encounter is a sacred trust, and the patient’s clinical experiences influence their health care outcomes and their trust in the medical system. The author speaks of the isolation felt as a physician of color compared to her other colleagues and the negative impact on her wellness from her unpleasant patient encounter. How can we address these challenges and create a health care environment and culture that is welcoming to all and intolerant of these insults? In these ever-changing times, the urgency and need to address individual and systemic racism are essential.

Dr. Heron at a signing for Diversity and Inclusion in Quality Patient Care at ACEP16.

Dr. Heron at a signing for Diversity and Inclusion in Quality Patient Care at ACEP16.
Darnell Scott

In her article, the author commends ACEP President Rebecca Parker, MD, for ensuring cultural diversity is a part of ACEP’s priorities. This has been demonstrated by Dr. Parker’s creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to address this critical and timely topic. However, to achieve success, we should ask ourselves, what can our respective institutions do to ensure that there is a welcoming environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion? The Association of American Medical Colleges’ lens toward diversity, inclusion, and health equity as a driver for excellence is one example. Each institution or health care system can commit to the concept of diversity as drivers for excellence by 1) creating a strategic plan to address diversity and inclusion, 2) committing to leadership and mentoring opportunities for underrepresented groups, and 3) participating in cultural competency education and unconscious bias training. Most important, to achieve success in creating a culture that celebrates diversity and welcomes inclusion, there must be commitment by the leadership of your organization and/or institution. Dr. Parker has demonstrated that leadership. An honest reflection of your working environment and a commitment to open dialogue that may include difficult conversations are key. Dr. Forde-Baker concludes, “ACEP must hear from diverse physicians to acknowledge our experiences and support our needs.”

Are you willing to do the same? The work may be difficult; however, the efforts and rewards will be well worth it. 

Dr. Heron is professor of emergency medicine and assistant dean at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta; a member of the ACEP Diversity and Inclusion Task Force; and an editor of Diversity and Inclusion in Quality Patient Care, the first textbook in emergency medicine addressing diversity and inclusion.

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