“It takes a village …” is as cliché as it gets in today’s culture.
Yet to thrive in the ever-changing multicultural climate of health care education, the communal value encrypted in this classic idiom remains a necessary factor in the equation of success for University of Utah Health Sciences.
“Something we’re actively working on is really creating an environment that promotes inclusive excellence across the health sciences,” said Associate vice president for Health Equity and Inclusion at University of Utah Health Sciences Ana Maria Lopez, M.D., M.P.H.
“And it’s really thinking that, you know, we are facing complex problems in health care, and to face and address complex problems we need everybody’s voice.”
A two-sided course of action has been cultivated by Lopez to construct an ecosystem of inclusion among the five schools and colleges of University of Utah Health Sciences, aiming to inform and involve the more than 14,000 faculty and staff.
Lopez believes a world-class healthcare education institution must feature a wide variety of resources to pool from and she has recently arranged for different speakers to visit campus to illustrate her directive.
“We’re a learning community and during the past few months we’ve had the opportunity to learn,” Lopez said.
“We’ve had visitors come and share their experiences. [The author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies] Scott E. Page gave such a wonderful talk where he talked about if you want to be a B institution then you have a homogenous environment. If you want to be A+ you want to have a heterogeneous diverse environment.”
After a series of speakers like Page visit campus, empirical data will be collected and scrutinized to gauge the progress that has been made.
“So I think as speakers come and as we learn, we start to move the needle forward in all of the different constituencies so that we can begin to test,” Lopez said.
Assessments will then be made centered around interviews of select personnel.
“It really is an evidence-based science so there are best practices,” Lopez said. “Then there are experiments that we can do, perhaps in reviewing candidates to blind, gender, race, ethnicity, and look and see what kind of selections are made when we’re blinded. So to really address unconscious bias in a serious way may be one experiment that could be done.”
Before achieving her grand objective, Lopez also knows it will take a personal touch to lay the groundwork for an ideal campus climate.
“I’m early in the process, and I’m really trying to engage as many folks as possible,” Lopez said. “I am limited by the fact that there are so many waking hours, and the campus and the number of people, it’s a lot. But yeah, so I wish I could do that more quickly, but I do think that that step-by-step meeting folks and engaging people at the one-on-one level is important.”
No one person can be counted on to inspire increases in inclusion, but Lopez has assumed the charge of acting as a catalyst for change by building personal connections with thought leaders across campus.
“The first thing has been to really engage more folks around this, so they’re representatives from each school, from each college, each program,” Lopez said. “Then there are partners that we need to really help work so that everybody feels that inclusive excellence is part of what they need to do.”
A communal approach must be shared among the different departments.
“Right, and really so that everybody feels it’s their responsibility,” Lopez said. “The faculty in medicine, the faculty in psychiatry, they all have specific goals for their faculty, so what’s great for me is to be able to work as a resource, provide best practices, and then have the departments set the path out for themselves.”
The principal goal of Lopez’s personal connections will be to accountability and influence of individuals throughout University of Utah Health Sciences’ colleges and schools.
“Some people might say, “Well, we have to attract people from the outside, growing your own takes time,” all of these are true but we’re in it for the long term,” Lopez said. “We know that in order to care for our patients we want to be more reflective of the population. The University of Utah is so committed to quality and excellence. In order to do that, we need to address inclusive excellence from all ends.”
But after the significant investment of resources and time required to carry out these plans, Lopez believes Utah Health Sciences will improve its influence on the health and well-being of Utah residents.
“I think that the impact would really be seen in moving the institution forward from a quality and an excellence perspective so that we will really be better than we were.”
The University of Utah “village” will reap the benefits for the foreseeable future.