Diversity, equity and inclusion is not just for leaders: 5 quotes from MD Anderson's diversity chief

Ranna Parekh, MD, joined MD Anderson as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in May. Dr. Parekh had an interview Jan. 5 with MD Anderson regarding her role and priorities.

Here are five quotes from the interview:

On why Dr. Parekh is interested in DEI leadership: I would say that the biggest influence on my career happened when I started my first year of residency training in psychiatry after medical school. As a result of the emphasis I placed on the role of diversity and cultures in people's lives in my personal statement, I was introduced to renowned psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor Chester Pierce, MD He was the first Black full professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and served as my training supervisor for three years. Dr. Pierce coined the term "microaggressions" and was one of the first to talk about race in medicine. His research included understanding people who work in extreme environments. He taught me how important it is to create a sense of belonging for all people. Dr. Pierce has had a tremendous impact on my life, and so much of his work has influenced the way I think about DEI in healthcare.   

On the importance of DEI in healthcare: Healthcare is about people. Patients do not just bring their health status to you; they bring everything that they are as an individual. While we emphasize adopting best practices, we also learn from our patients' differences. Great healthcare providers pride themselves in delivering excellent, personalized care to everyone because people serve as the connector. 

On how a diverse environment and culture impacts the patient experience: Our diversity is incredibly valuable because patients want to see people from their communities as part of their care teams and people interested in their communities. It is critically impactful and builds trust when a patient can feel that someone on the team caring for them understands who they are. This is a component that we have at MD Anderson through our diverse workforce and commitment to inclusion, which helps us to forge relationships with our patients while delivering the very best patient-centric care.

On the biggest DEI challenge in healthcare: Among the biggest challenges are how to make diversity, equity and inclusion a part of the DNA of an organization and to ensure that people understand that DEI is important and benefits everyone. Part of the reason DEI is so polarizing throughout the nation is that some people feel that it offers benefits for a group and is connected to someone else losing out, and that is not the case. We really need to hear from the individuals who are on the fence about diversity, equity and inclusion so we can all better understand how DEI benefits everyone. Providing safe spaces to ask questions and engage more people in the solutions is the next transformative challenge for DEI.

On the future of DEI: I would like to see our institution even more engaged in doing the work that has made us a national leader in diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI is so critical to our future, and it is no longer just a core competency for leaders. It is a core competency for any person living in America today, regardless of their role.

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