Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Sept. 5, 2013 Volume 35, No. 3

Expert talks about medical diversity at School of Medicine lecture

Alternate text

Marc Nivet. Photo courtesy of the School of Medicine.

University of Missouri develops health care programs to broaden diversity

Marc Nivet has catalogued plenty of frequent flier miles over the past three years.

During that span, the chief diversity officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., has visited 50 colleges and universities across America. On Aug. 29 he visited the MU School of Medicine to deliver a lunchtime lecture on diversity in medicine.

Nivet told an audience in Bryant Auditorium that the old approach to diversity in higher education was undertaken out of duty and fairness, not as a belief that diversity could benefit institutions. But that view has shifted. These days, the best schools understand the “dividends of diversity,” Nivet said. 

People of different backgrounds and ethnicities can learn from one another, he said. In medicine, health care professionals and patients are the beneficiaries. Regarding patients, many times they are more comfortable when treated by a physician who looks like them, he said. As America becomes more racially diverse, the country needs more doctors of different ethnicities. 

“We don’t have to give up something to be diverse,” Nivet said. “Diversity helps us be better institutions.”

Nivet also discussed two “structural barriers” to diversity in medicine: too small of a K-12 pipeline resulting in high school students not being exposed to the career possibilities in health care, and the rigorous admissions process.

He said GPA and the MCAT scores should not be the only criteria for acceptance into medical school. “Levels of curiosity, tenacity and perseverance all matter,” Nivet said.

In recent years, the University of Missouri has ramped up its commitment to diversity. The School of Medicine has six programs that reach out to high school students of different backgrounds and ethnicities to encourage them to consider a career in medicine. 

Those programs include the Cristo Rey Network National Partner, in which the medical school supports a summit where urban youth learn about medical careers; Mini-Medical School, a summer program for high school students; and Mizzou MedPrep, which offers one-on-one advising resources to students from diverse backgrounds.

The School of Medicine is also connected with support organizations such as the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, the Multicultural Center and the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

In early 2011, MU Health System Vice Chancellor Harold A. Williamson Jr. appointed leaders to the Diversity Advisory Council, which seeks to increase diversity and inclusion.

“A diverse faculty, workforce and student body is essential to providing an environment that fosters healing and learning,” Williamson said. “We believe that patients, students and employees thrive in a culture that is welcoming and respectful.” 

Soon after the council’s formation, the council leaders undertook a multiphased study to assess the climate for diversity throughout the MU Health System, said Mary Jenkins, public relations manager. The purpose of the study was to capture a baseline assessment of the climate and to make data-driven decisions related to what was learned.

One of the recommendations was that health managers and physicians receive training in diversity and inclusiveness, Jenkins said. Since then, more than 60 have undergone training at the National Inclusion Institute for Healthcare, she said.

What’s more, efforts are underway to increase faculty diversity. “We have seen concerted efforts in recruiting diverse faculty with exciting positive results in the schools of nursing and medicine,” said Noor Azizan-Gardner, MU’s chief diversity officer. 

MU and the School of Medicine’s definition of diversity is broad; it is not limited to race. It encompasses people of differing genders, languages, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, abilities and disabilities, national and geographic origins, socioeconomic class, veterans’ status and political views.