The first chief diversity officer of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center has this advice for you

Alia Paavola - Print  | 

After joining The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in 2001 and progressing through the ranks, Leon McDougle, MD, saw his efforts recognized in 2013 when he was selected to serve as the medical college's first chief diversity officer.

Dr. McDougle also serves as associate dean for diversity and inclusion and is a tenured associate professor of family medicine and the director of the Medical Pathways Premedical Postbaccalaureate Program in the college of medicine, which has a 23,000-person workforce.

Under his leadership, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center won a $3.8 million grant to establish a new educational track, in which internal medicine residents will receive training to better meet the needs of underserved communities.  

Here, Dr. McDougle discusses his main responsibilities, offers his advice to organizations looking to establish a role devoted to executive diversity, and describes how the CDO role is evolving.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and style

Question: What are some of your main responsibilities as The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's first CDO?

Dr. Leon McDougle: I see myself as the chief collaborating officer. I engage leaders and stakeholders across the enterprise to advance our strategic plan and mission to improve health in Ohio and across the world through innovation in research, education and patient care. To achieve these goals, we aim to foster an environment to attract and develop a diverse and talented team of people committed to creating a culture of innovation and discovery. For example, research has demonstrated that unconscious and sometimes conscious bias directed toward women and persons from underrepresented groups may create unfavorable environments for learning and career growth. Recently, eight other medical college leaders and I completed The Ohio State University Women's Place Advocates and Allies for Equity training. This National Science Foundation initiative involves male leaders convening to develop male allies in support of female faculty and staff advancement.

I also help lead efforts to benchmark our colleges and Wexner Medical Center against national standards of excellence. Through such collaboration, Ohio State was recognized as the first university to have three health colleges honored by Insight Into Diversity with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in 2017. In 2018, the college of nursing was honored for the third consecutive year and the veterinary medicine and medical college were honored for the second year in a row. The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute were also recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as a 2018 LGBTQ Healthcare Equality leader.

I also serve as co-chair of The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Diversity Council. Our council supports our mission and includes several committees including the climate, cultural competence, communication, disparities and employee resource groups.  

Q: What advice do you have for organizations looking to establish an executive role dedicated to diversity and inclusion?

LM: Diversity and inclusion starts at the top of with the board of trustees or directors setting an example for others to follow. Synergy is created when there is organizational alignment to advance inclusion and excellence. It's difficult to drive organizational change without support that starts at the top. That said, my advice would be to ensure organizations focus on board diversity and inclusion first. Once that's established, it's much more likely that a CDO will be effective.

Q: What are some workforce diversity challenges that are unique to Ohio State?

LM: We're essentially a United Nations of healthcare. In one year, The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center provided interpreter services for patients speaking 130 different languages. A diverse and inclusive workforce is required for us to provide optimal healthcare and develop innovative solutions for complex issues. To provide culturally competent care, we must be patient-centered in our approach. Being aware of our own unconscious bias and ways to mitigate bias are key to improving patient satisfaction and healthcare outcomes.

Another challenge is that we must continue to engage our community to impact social determinants of health with programs such as our Moms2B and the Health Sciences Academies. Moms2B, which is led by Patricia Gabbe, MD, [clinical professor of pediatrics at Wexner Medical Center] and Twinkle French Schottke, [infant mental health specialist and program director at Wexner Medical Center], provides weekly education and support sessions to promote healthy lifestyle choices and link moms with support services. What began originally as a research-driven, 10-week nutrition course at one location has since expanded into a community-wide comprehensive prenatal and first-year-of-life program offered weekly at five locations.

Q: You started as associate dean for diversity and inclusion. What piqued your interest in assuming the role of CDO?

LM: In some ways, I was already providing service across the medical center as The Ohio State University College of Medicine associate dean for diversity and inclusion. The appointment to serve as CDO provided an opportunity for career growth and more time devoted to system initiatives, which range from supplier diversity to the cultural competence of our 23,000-person workforce.

Q: How is the CDO role evolving?

LM: The role is evolving to include greater responsibility to collaborate with leaders and stakeholders to identify health disparities and advance health equity. CDOs are networking across the enterprise and are being seen as central figures to advance mission-focused goals.

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