• AUG 16, 2020

    Stepping Forward with Diversity and Inclusion

    Vanessa P. Ho, MD, MPH

    Stepping Forward with Diversity and Inclusion

    Right now, it’s easy to feel lost, overwhelmed, or hopeless. These are trying times, and sometimes it feels like I just can’t stay standing, let alone put one foot in front of the other. The barriers seem insurmountable. Covid-19 in the United States isn’t going away, exacerbated by our inability as a society to come to a consensus how to follow scientific data. Racial tensions are higher than I can remember in my lifetime. Social media simultaneously augments inspiring voices and destructive bullies.

    I take solace in my work—it is my small opportunity to help make the world a better place. As a physician, I can help one patient at a time. Through research, I can help groups of patients by changing treatment paradigms. Through academic societies, I can be a part of something bigger-- networks of people, and our voices can be stronger together. I considered my work as an academic to be a quiet place where I focus on data, keeping my feelings separate from my science.  My viewpoint on this is changing.  Academic surgery is leaving fantastic individuals behind, especially colleagues who don’t look or feel like they “match” our leadership. It is our duty as an academic community to push against this status quo, and loudly. In reality, my “solace” was a place to hide in my privilege.

    So how do we change? First, we need to agree that our academic societies should look like the people that they represent. It should be a no-brainer that this would lead to better patient care, research that is more reflective of the burden of diseases in our society, and more trust in the medical system. If we can agree on that, then we can move forward.

    It’s no secret that academic surgery is dominated by white male voices. The question is how to amplify other voices-- Black, Latinx, female, LGBTQ, Muslim, Asian, and people who are none-of-the-above. The answer is NOT to create a Diversity committee and be satisfied there. Valuable voices historically get pigeonholed into “Diversity” silos. We need diversity at every level. For the SIS, this means diversity in our committees, in our guidelines, in our meeting/webinar panelists and discussants, in our research, and every other venue. If diversity is everywhere, “Diversity Committees” would be superfluous. 

    I do not know the best way to move forward against the status quo. I don’t pretend to know how to make change where others smarter than me have failed. I don’t know what it will look like to move forward. I will make mistakes. But I promise to listen, to keep an open mind, to consider all voices and all suggestions with respect. I promise to keep confidentiality if that is ever needed. I promise to stay standing, and I will try to step forward. I invite you to help guide me in the right direction.


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