MARCH 18, 2005 | Diversity in the health care profession allows for delivering the best health care to patients from different racial, socio-economic or cultural backgrounds, says the head of the new Center for Diversity Affairs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
Billy Thomas, M.D., M.P.H., recently was elevated from assistant dean of minority affairs in the
Minority representation on the UAMS faculty is ahead of the national average and the university works to recruit students, faculty and employees from diverse backgrounds. But it’s not about numbers, it’s about health care, Thomas said
“If you look at the types of patients we see, we serve a very diverse population, with racial, cultural, economic, societal and many other differences,” Thomas said. “A diverse work force delivers better health care to a diverse population, making it possible to overcome barriers in language or other differences that can directly impact the level of care.”
In November 2004, Thomas was named associate dean, after serving as assistant dean of minority affairs since 1998. His selection coincided with the renaming of the
“It is not so much an issue of race now as it is an economic or academic issue,” Thomas said. “Race certainly plays a role, but the bottom line is health care and seeking ways for improving health care education and delivery by appreciating the differences in the populations we serve.
“We all have the same DNA and we all have heart attacks, for example, but we can now look to see if there are factors within different cultures that can alter the risk for heart attack and use that information to guide preventative care to specific populations.”
The Center for Diversity Affairs promotes diversity within the population of student, faculty and employee groups at UAMS. Those efforts range from hosting campus events that raise awareness of diversity issues to student recruitment to faculty development.
For the last eight years, UAMS has hosted an annual Diversity Week. In 2004, the week included a slate of presentations on a study of local racial attitudes, a study on health care disparities across minority groups and the annual International Fest with artifacts, music, exhibits and food from the various cultures represented on the UAMS campus.
Recruitment efforts continue to seek students from diverse backgrounds through events such as the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP), which continues to grow as it introduces students from disadvantaged backgrounds to the variety of careers available in health care. In addition to recruitment efforts, Thomas called for looking for ways to ensure curriculums are culturally competent, that is that they offer courses or information to allow students to address health care issues across different cultures they might see.
Thomas said the diversity efforts also will extend to faculty development. Students and even some patients are cognizant of minority representation at a medical school or hospital, he said, and might even avoid facilities with low minority representation.
It’s not that the goal is parity representation of minorities, Thomas said, but just to continue striving for enrollment that is more reflective of the state’s population. The 2000 federal census showed roughly 20 percent of
He noted the increasing Hispanic population in the state, with language and cultural differences that can affect health care. Communication between a doctor or nurse and a patient is a large part of health care, Thomas said, and without good communication, health care providers cannot deliver quality care.
In the past year, the Center for Diversity Affairs has submitted proposals to the National Institutes of Health for funding of more programs to promote diversity at UAMS. The proposals target three areas, Thomas said, including classroom activities that support cultural competency in students; a program for sending medical students to work in community clinics in disadvantaged areas around the state after their first or second year in school; and for simulated patients that represent the diversity of cultural, language or other differences.
Thomas is also putting his own experience as a UAMS student and faculty member to work in support of diversity. He earned his medical degree at UAMS and completed his residency in 1983. He joined the UAMS faculty in 1995.
Based on that perspective, he said it’s a priority that every student, particularly those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, is aware of all possible careers in health care.
“Everywhere you look in the health care arena, there are personnel shortages,” Thomas said. He added that although the Center for Diversity Affairs is a part of the
Links on This
Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program: http://www.uams.edu/update/absolutenm/templates/news2003v2.asp?articleid=2429&zoneid=18
© 2004 University of