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Charting the Course for Inclusion and Diversity

We hear about disparities and discrimination nationally both in healthcare and in many aspects of society at large so frequently improvements can feel slow and cumbersome. At Penn Medicine, words of inclusivity and diversity have been followed up with progressive actions, and the benefits are experienced throughout the institution.

Efforts to improve inclusion and diversity at Penn Medicine have been progressing for years, but kicked into high gear when J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD began his tenure as executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) in 2011. Further bolstering these efforts in 2013, Eve J. Higginbotham, SM, MD, was hired as PSOM’s first vice dean for Inclusion and Diversity, and the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach in Undergraduate Medical Education started the Program for Diversity and Inclusion (PDI), naming Horace DeLisser, MD, associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion for PSOM. These steps lead to creation of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity (OID), headed by Higginbotham, in 2013 to create a hub for longstanding programs to collaborate and flourish.  

Ongoing initiatives at Penn Medicine – such as the new Transgender Patient Advocate program and LGBT Student-Trainee-Faculty Mentorship program – are proving fruitful in creating a more diverse and inclusive environment in care facilities, classrooms, and labs.

"We’re affirming that inclusion has many benefits beyond just ensuring that we have the benefit of everyone’s perspectives on complex issues that we’re all facing,” Higginbotham said. “No voice is left unheard in that discussion.” 

Inclusion and Diversity are mutually beneficial for all involved, according to Higginbotham – from a business, educational, and cultural prospective – as they allow everyone to fulfill their professional aspirations and innovate in a way that other environments would not make possible.

This sentiment was echoed throughout Penn Medicine’s “Health Equity Week” events this month, which raised awareness on health inequities through lectures, workshops, and other events. The week featured a diverse array of voices and perspectives, from a video message on LGBT health by Rachel Levine, MD, physician general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to first-hand accounts of individual’s experiences navigating health care in Philadelphia. 

During the week, Rebecca Trotta, PhD, RN, director of nursing research and science, delivered a lecture on how ageism affects patient care. Details of that lecture were covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Other Penn speakers throughout the week included Ralph Muller, CEO, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Patrick J. Brennan, MD, chief medical officer UPHS, Jaya Aysola, MD, DTMH, MPH, assistant dean of Graduate Medical Education and research director of the OID, as well as guests Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, PhD, director of stakeholder’s relations, Kaiser Permanente, and Joan Y. Reede, MD, MD, MPH, MBA, dean for diversity and community partnership at the Harvard Medical School. 

These lectures illuminated issues for care providers, researchers and patients alike – but it wasn’t all talk. Penn Medicine signed the American Hospital Association Equity Pledge, a national movement that asks hospital and health system leaders to maintain and build upon efforts to improve inclusion and diversity.

Further efforts are exemplified by the week’s poster session, which covered topics like improving patients’ understanding of radiology reports using a lay-language glossary, the sociodemographic factors that influence the choice to pursue nasolveolar molding (a treatment used in preparation for cleft lip or cleft palate surgery), decreasing the perception of exam room wait time, racial disparities in surgical outcomes of patients with inflammatory bowel disease, and goodness versus fairness in public health decision making: designing an animated bioethics learning module.

The week’s events, organized by Aysola, serve to complement Penn’s Blueprint for Health Equity and Inclusion. The blueprint, modeled after the Penn’s Blueprint for Quality and Safety, aims to ensure that all patients, irrespective of culture or background, will receive high quality, patient and family-centered care by creating a culture of health equity mindfulness in the clinical learning environment at PSOM.

Higginbotham notes that all academic medical centers are experiencing the same challenges that Penn faces with recruiting the best talent and fostering an inclusive atmosphere where everyone can thrive.

“There are people who say we will get to that point, but it’s not going to happen organically – these are complex organizations with complex processes with some embedded biases,” Higginbotham said. “It’s a matter of being proactive and trying different strategies, infusing mindfulness and objectivity into key processes.”

Read more about achievements thus far and goals ahead in the next issue of Penn Medicine magazine.


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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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