Philly-area schools showcase diversity challenges in medical school leadership

At Philadelphia-area medical schools responsible for training one in six of the nation’s doctors, the top leadership often looks nothing like the diversity of their majority-minority city.

Thomas Jefferson University will soon be the only school with a top leader from a racial group underrepresented in medicine. Jefferson on Tuesday named Said A. Ibrahim, an internal medicine physician born in Somalia, as the first Black dean of its Sidney Kimmel Medical College. He starts on Dec. 1.

At the six other medical schools in the area — University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, and Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine — all the top deans identify as white. All but two are men.

» READ MORE: Thomas Jefferson University appoints doctor with a background in diversity efforts and local ties as new medical school dean

At some medical schools, the only staffers from underrepresented racial groups in high leadership positions are the deans in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion, The Inquirer found by reviewing websites and confirming the backgrounds of top officials with the institutions.

The leadership landscape in Philadelphia offers a snapshot of the diversity challenges facing schools across the country: About 12% of all permanent medical school deans, meaning deans who were officially appointed and not in interim roles, belonged to an underrepresented minority in 2022, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical institutions have for years been trying to improve diversity. That endeavor may be even more complex following the Supreme Court’s recent decision that universities can no longer consider application questions about students’ race.

“All of the talk about diversity and inclusion at the end of the day, it really is about being able to look beyond yourself,” said Abiona Berkeley, the interim senior associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

Diversity at academic institutions can help provide students a more well-rounded education and cultural experience, studies show. At medical schools tasked with educating the next generation of doctors, diversity is increasingly considered mission-critical: Patients tend to respond better to treatment when they share a racial or ethnic background with their doctor, research has found.

For instance, one study of 1.8 million births between 1992 and 2015 found that Black infants cared for by Black physicians were more likely to survive than those cared for by white doctors.

A study interviewing 39 medical school admissions deans and directors found that even at schools with relatively diverse student bodies, students of color reported feeling dissatisfied with overwhelmingly white faculty.

“‘You brought me here for what?’” one study participant reported hearing from students. “‘Where’s the faculty, where’s the leadership?’”

Diversity challenges in Philadelphia

The AAMC defines “underrepresented in medicine” as any group that does not make up the same proportion of doctors as they do in the general population. That includes individuals who are Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander.

Asians and Asian Americans are typically not considered underrepresented because they account for a greater percentage of the physician workforce compared to their representation in the general population.

Medical school deans who spoke to The Inquirer said their schools are committed to improving diversity and pointed to progress:

Berkeley, the interim senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at Temple, pointed to the medical school’s first female head dean, Amy Goldberg, who was appointed last year. The medical school has worked hard to recruit faculty from wide-ranging backgrounds, considering factors beyond race and ethnicity underrepresented in medical leadership, including gender, sexual orientation, and also medical specialty, she said.

Annette Reboli, the top dean of Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, also noted the school has improved diversity by bringing on more women to the faculty.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine said that six of its 38-member extended leadership team come from underrepresented groups. The highest ranking is Eve J. Higginbotham, the vice dean of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

How to improve leadership diversity at medical schools

The solution isn’t solely hiring more faculty and administrators from underrepresented communities.

As in much of society, implicit bias affects modern hiring practices for medical leadership, said Lauren Olsen, an assistant professor at Temple University and medical sociologist who studies inequality and diversity in medical education. Hiring leaders often rely on people who share similar social networks and favor those who have volunteered their time to the institution. This may give an upper hand to people who can afford to spend additional time on these duties.

“It’s not necessarily racism by design,” Olsen said. “It’s like racism by default.”

Other experts say qualified applicants are out there — schools just need to invest more in finding them and making sure they stay in academia.

For instance, schools could do more to mentor junior-level faculty members from underrepresented groups and encourage them to pursue leadership roles within the university, said Jasmine Weiss, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and founder of Black Med Connect, a platform for Black physicians and physicians-in-training.

Faculty members who don’t see people who look like them in leadership roles “may not even aspire to leadership positions,” she said.

Nationally, white doctors make up 62% of medical school faculty, according to AAMC data. Asian doctors are second at 21% but tend to occupy more junior-level faculty positions, making up only 15% of full professors. Their white counterparts account for 74% of full professors.

Those statistics demonstrate how underrepresented groups can get squeezed out as they climb the academic career ladder, said Michelle Ko, an associate professor of health policy and management at UC Davis School of Medicine, whose research focuses on racism in health care and diversity in medical schools.

National accreditation organizations consider diversity when evaluating medical schools — and upping the specificity of the requirements could push institutions to move more quickly, she said.

“You could change leadership makeup with intentionality,” Ko said. “But that’s not happening, at least at the moment.”

» READ MORE: New dean at Thomas Jefferson University’s medical school continues revamp of top management

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site