Last Updated: Apr 22, 2021
By Chad Walker, DO, Chair of PAMED's Health Diversity Task Force
Practicing medicine during a pandemic has been humbling. We are supposed to have the answers, the evidence-based therapeutic recommendations, the technologies to cure. We have to admit to ourselves, that we are learning...but that should not be with shame. We have committed to a profession of lifelong learning. This pandemic will teach us where we failed and how we can do better and that is how we grow.
New phrases are now germane to our daily vocabulary. We counsel on social distancing, masking, and hand washing as we help patients sift through fears and misinformation to encourage widespread vaccinations. Increasingly, we are confronted with our personal and societal interpretations of phrases like health care equity, diversity, inclusion, and biases. This pandemic has highlighted the disparities in health care access and outcomes of underrepresented communities and should be heard as a call to action to all of us.
Resiliency is a quality I have always admired in the health care profession. While the challenges we encounter during this pandemic add to our stress and increase symptoms of burnout, it is our responsibility to provide care to patients of all backgrounds. What has become all too apparent is that we have much to learn about ourselves and those we serve.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) has heard the call from members and the public and has formed the Health Diversity Task Force. This task force aims to tackle diversity in the physician workforce, inherit and social biases in health care, diversity in medical education, as well as add health equity to medical education. We have acknowledged racism as a public health issue, but the disparities go much further than race alone. How do we achieve an inclusive society, incorporating spectrums of age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, religion, and politics?
It was with mixed emotions I accepted a position on this task force. While excited and proud that PAMED was making a commitment to improving diversity among its leadership and membership, where would we start? Was I “diverse” enough to be taken seriously? What could I bring to the table? I stepped away from the insecurities and reflected on my experience with PAMED. My relationship with staff and leadership has always been one of mutual respect and genuinely feeling welcome, but is this the perception of our organization to others? And if not, then why? Why wouldn’t I want to be part of a team that strives to give us the tools to answer this question and make PAMED more representative of the physicians and the communities we serve?
Doubts became aspirations as the team’s early conversations took place. Collectively, we have acknowledged that uncomfortable conversations are bound to happen and are often necessary to make progress. We remember to respect and listen to each other. We strive to build a framework to help educate ourselves and our membership with a goal of being an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion when advocating for Pennsylvanian physicians and patients. We want inclusion to be a lens PAMED uses when implementing policy, recognizing impacts may not be the same for all communities.
We look to partner with individuals and organizations that have experience with education and outreach. We hope this task force can serve as a safe place to ask questions, voice concerns, and seek resources. Recognizing the enormity and implications of this venture, we are open to ideas and projects. We want to be a committee of actions, not just statements.
In the coming days, PAMED will be adding a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion selection to its Membership tab on the PAMED homepage. As the Task Force does its work, members will be able to access resources and updates there.
CONNECT WITH THE TASK FORCE
We and look forward to hearing from you!