Students, faculty and staff tackle important diversity work

Like every first-year medical student, LaKeisha Majette, MD Class of 2022, was buried in books last spring when she was tapped for a special project. Yet she was eager to jump in.

“It was a privilege to participate,” Ms. Majette says. “To be able to sit down at the table and have input — that was very meaningful.”

Ray Ramirez, MD Class of 2020, was juggling one clinical rotation after another when he got the call. “To me, participating was a no-brainer,” he says “and I was happy to help out.”

Eric Werner, MD, Professor of Pediatrics at EVMS, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and CHKD’s co-chief medical information officer. Yet he didn’t hesitate to expand his workload.

“It’s personally rewarding,” he says, “to be involved with identifying and implementing solutions that can address these issues.”

The issues? Diversity, inclusion and health equity. The project to address them? Creating the EVMS Strategic Plan 2020 – 2024: Advancing Health Equity and Inclusion for Community and Academic Impact.

Richard V. Homan, MD, President and Provost of EVMS and Dean of the School of Medicine, launched the initiative in April 2019 after national news outlets reported on a racist photo discovered in a 1984 student yearbook. Enhancing equity on campus has been a priority for Dr. Homan since he became Dean in 2012 and created the EVMS Diversity and Inclusion office. Being in the national spotlight increased this commitment.

To develop the strategic plan, more than 100 EVMS faculty, staff and students came together in five working groups — Education, Community, Patient Care, Research and Administration — and an Advisory Committee.

Six focus-group discussions were held in May. During those sessions, a cross-section of EVMS constituencies shared their views about challenges and opportunities related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Over the summer, each working group reviewed the focus-group feedback and met several times to draft and refine recommendations. In September, the final four-year plan, with a budget of $7.3 million, was reviewed and unanimously approved by the EVMS Board of Visitors.

Brian Martin, PhD, MBA, is EVMS’ Associate Dean for Admissions and Enrollment, Director of the Master of Public Health and Doctor of Health Sciences programs, and Professor in the School of Health Professions. His days are packed, to be sure, yet he didn’t think twice about joining the Advisory Committee.

“This project could have been approached as just checking a box,” Dr. Martin says, “but I didn’t witness any of that. This wasn’t just a corporate band-aid. People were genuinely engaged, and their ideas were creative and innovative.”

Student LaKeisha Majette, a member of the Community working group, agrees: “EVMS wasn’t afraid to start from the inside and take a hard look at itself.”

For Catherine Derber, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, it was clear that EVMS leadership was willing to invest the necessary effort and resources to identify and resolve any issues.

“It was meaningful to me,” Dr. Derber says, “to see that EVMS was working to ensure that all voices were represented. That diversity of voices represents the diversity that EVMS is striving to achieve.”

Dr. Eric Werner co-chaired the Administration working group. “The events of last winter put a focus on the EVMS culture,” Dr. Werner says, “but processes to promote inclusivity here long pre-dated those events. This plan is the next step. We can’t underestimate the importance of this both internally within EVMS, but also in the interaction between the school and the community and ultimately, for the community’s long-term health. There’s so much more we need to understand about healthcare disparities.”

Co-chair of the Advisory Committee, Mekbib Gemeda, MA, joined EVMS in 2013 as Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. “In these meetings,” he says, “people were honest and candid about their experiences. There were both courageous discussions and meaningful engagement.”

Elza Mylona, PhD, MBA , co-chaired the Advisory Committee with Mr. Gemeda. As Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Institutional Effectiveness and Professor of Internal Medicine, Dr. Mylona led the last two strategic plans for EVMS.

“This one touched people’s hearts,” Dr. Mylona says. “When you touch the heart and the brain connects, it’s exciting and gratifying. It gave us a lot of opportunity to look at how we engage with each other. It also brought our EVMS community together to review, reflect and create a rigorous plan for the future that will ensure that our commitment to health equity and inclusion is cemented and continues to flourish.”

At EVMS since 2015, Dr. Martin acknowledges the institution’s limited resources, but says, “We’ve decided that this is extremely important. We took a deeper dive into looking at our own social fabric. Where do we see weaknesses? Where do we see opportunities? We’re putting real resources toward it.

“I hope the project is seen by our community, our peers and our employees as evidence that we really do care about making progress in this area,” he adds. “Give it a chance. See what happens.”

Student Ray Ramirez believes the plan will put EVMS’ commitment into action. “When I saw all of the different staff, faculty and students in the first meeting,” he says, “it really resonated with me that so many great people at EVMS are willing to use their voices to help such an important cause.”

EVMS Strategic Plan 2020 – 2024: Advancing Health Equity and Inclusion for Community and Academic Impact

In 2019, EVMS came together as a campus community to identify opportunities to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion in our core mission areas. The result was a road map to ensure that EVMS continues to be a unique academic environment where diversity, equity and inclusion in healthcare are the driving forces to achieve the EVMS mission and advance the community.

Below are the plan’s five strategic priorities. A continuous quality improvement will be implemented to guide decision-making for the first three years and beyond.

  • Provide Enriched Training and Assessment for Access and Success
  • Foster and Maintain a Diverse Workforce and Learner Population
  • Strengthen Community Engagement and Health Equity
  • Enhance Health Equity Research and Clinical Services Delivery
  • Benchmark for Excellence
Read the entire plan

EVMS Diversity and Inclusion Timeline

Below is a sampling of programs and initiatives put in place since 2012 to address diversity, inclusion and health equity at EVMS.

January 2012: Richard V. Homan, MD, hired. Dr. Homan identified the need to create Diversity and Inclusion office.

February 2013: Dr. Homan recruited Mekbib Gemeda, MA, from New York University to serve as the first Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at EVMS.

Summer 2013: EVMS Diversity Statement developed and implemented. Holistic Review Admissions Process and campus-wide implicit bias training implemented.

Fall 2014: Mentoring program launched to match underrepresented minority high-school students from the Maury High School medical program with minority medical students at EVMS.

Fall 2016: Social determinants of health integrated into MD student curriculum. Students engage from the first day they arrive. Community-engaged learning formalized as part of the MD curriculum to bring students face-to-face with diverse area residents to enrich their learning opportunities.

Summer 2018: EVMS/NRHA Youth Engagement Program, a mentoring and development program for youth in Norfolk public housing, established.

Fall 2018: Pipeline K-12 initiatives expanded to work with the 200+ Black Men to expose African American male high-school students and their parents to health professions careers.

March 2019: EVMS received the 2019 Institutional Excellence Award from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

April 2019: Dr. Homan launched the process to create Strategic Plan for Advancing Health Equity and Inclusion for Community and Academic Impact.

Summer 2019: In partnership with Portsmouth Public Schools, EVMS hosted a summer educational experience for 20 high school students interested in pursuing a career in medicine or health professions.