As the world grapples with the COVID-19 health crisis, here in the United States we find ourselves in a flash point—at a time when access to medical care has never been more important, and centuries of racism face a national reckoning.
I have long been committed to decreasing health care disparities in Indiana and beyond. When I was approached by Dean Hess for the newly created role of Chief Diversity Officer and Special Advisor to the Dean, I knew that this was an opportunity to move the needle forward in breaking down those barriers to health care.
COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the higher burden of illness, injury, disability and mortality borne by people of color in the United States. This isn’t a new problem—it is not a product of coronavirus, nor will it be solved by a vaccine. Rather, COVID-19 is but one of many health care disparities facing our minority populations.
As a medical school, before we can make significant inroads in challenging these health disparities in our communities, we must first look inward, at the root causes of these disparities. As students, residents, faculty and staff, we must learn to exhibit cultural competence and humility. We must begin taking sizable strides in thwarting the racism that pervades our society.
As I get started in this new role, I plan on doing a lot of listening, to voices from all across the school. From these conversations, I am hoping to identify the challenges that our community experiences, and hear from our community members about possible solutions. When we can define the scope of the issues, we can develop and implement steps to mitigate and address the causes.
Getting there will be no easy task. Effecting cultural change is hard, and will involve difficult conversations, introspection and creating a different set of norms. It requires buy-in and support by everyone to be successful. In speaking with Dean Hess about this role, and the future of our school, I know he and I share a goal of making IU School of Medicine a place where diversity and inclusiveness are tantamount to our successes.
Over the course of more than 30 years at IU School of Medicine as a faculty member and physician, I have had many mentors. Those mentors all helped me to believe in my abilities, and as I grew in my profession I tried to provide that same mentorship to others. In this new role, I’m eager to continue providing mentorship to others in our school—to discover commonalities, have meaningful discussions, and work together to help everyone in our community feel valued and included.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Patricia Treadwell, MD
A highly-respected pediatric dermatologist, Patricia Treadwell, MD, was the first African American woman to rise through the ranks to full professor with tenure at IU School of Medicine. She served as teacher and mentor to students for more than 30 years as a faculty member with the Departments of Pediatrics and Dermatology. As the Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Treadwell serves as a critical advisor to the dean on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion spanning all of the school’s mission areas.