UWSMPH Inaugural Diversity Summit Will Probe Lack of African-American Men in Academic...

UWSMPH Inaugural Diversity Summit Will Probe Lack of African-American Men in Academic Medicine

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In 1978, 1,410 black men applied to U.S. medical schools.

In 2014, 36 years later, that number was 1,337, according to an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) report, “Altering the Course, Black Males in Medicine.”

Those unsettling numbers were the impetus for the creation of the first annual diversity summit titled “Identity and Resiliency: An Exploration of the Black Experience in Academic Medicine” says Brian Gittens, associate dean for human resources, equity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“As part of my role, I’m responsible for strategic diversity here within the School of Medicine and Public Health. So this Diversity Summit came about from that AAMC article talking about the relatively low number of African-American men in medicine,” Gittens tells Madison365. “While the issue was that African-Americans were really underrepresented in Madison overall, there was really an acute issue regarding men and medicine. The numbers have been actually declining the last few years. So we wanted to explore that and have a conversation about that. What’s going on? Why is this happening with African-Americans? Why aren’t they staying – in academic medicine in particular? We wanted to look at some of the factors associated with this.”

Despite efforts by medical schools to increase diversity among applicants, the numbers for one demographic — African-American men —have remained stagnant for nearly 40 years. With that in mind, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health is hoping to propel an important dialogue in academic medicine with “Identity and Resiliency: An Exploration of the Black Experience in Academic Medicine.” The conference and reception will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the School of Medicine and Public Health, Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Ave.

Dr. Feranmi Okanlami

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Feranmi Okanlami, M.D., a Stanford University alumni, who earned his M.D. from the University of Michigan and is currently completing his Family Medicine residency.

“He’s a wonderful speaker and he will talk about his journey. He’s an African-American male who has overcome many challenges in order to reach his dream,” Gittens says. “Dr. Okanlami is very inspirational and I think it will help the audience understand some of the unique circumstances when it comes to African-Americans trying to navigate this space. He is a great storyteller and a great speaker and he will be talking about the importance of resiliency in achieving your goal.”

In addition to the plenary session, there will be two breakout sessions including a session titled “Negotiation: Salary, Title and Promotion,” that will be moderated by Gittens himself. The ability to successfully negotiate is based, in part, social and cultural norms, and this panel of experts will provide people with tips, tools, and strategies on navigating these conversations with confidence.

“There are cultural differences when it comes to negotiations … gender-wise, ethnic-wise … and how they are socialized towards negotiation and sometimes those factors get in the way in terms of offers or promotional opportunities,” Gittens says.

The other featured workshop at the summit will be “Identity Crisis: Living Bi-culturally in the Workplace.” Code-switching is a skill known within the black community as necessary for mainstream success, but it often brings with it questions on where the line is between professionalism and assimilation.

“We talk about this notion of inclusion where people feel like they have to bend a certain way or act a certain way or be a certain way at the workplace that might not be authentic to themselves and it becomes a disengager for them. They think this place is not for them,” Gittens says.

Brian Gittens, associate dean for human resources, equity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

In this workshop, a panel of health care professionals will share insights on their path to successfully navigating this line.

Following the workshops, there will be a general reception in the atrium.

“The Diversity Summit will complement the strategic work we’ve been doing and highlight some issues,” Gittens says. The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, according to their website, is committed to improving the health of Wisconsin and beyond through service, scholarship, science and social responsibility. “We’re not going to solve all of the issues at this summit, but the idea is to have an open and honest dialog about this stuff and I don’t think that’s ever been done here.

“We want to let people know that we care about this stuff and that we are in tune with the issues and we know the data and we want to work on them,” he adds. “Growth only happens through a little bit of discomfort I believe. We have to find that right level of discomfort so people don’t get defensive and we turn people off, but at the same time we want to create enough tension for people to pay attention to the issue and hopefully activated to move and improve the circumstances.”

So, who is this Diversity Summit for?

“It’s for the whole community,” Gittens says. “We’re going to have students here, we’ll have residents here. We’re going to have over 230 residents. This is for everybody.

“Based upon this Diversity Summit, the hope is to extend some smaller workshops where we focus on the African-American experience,” Gittens continues. “We’re hoping that this inaugural Diversity Summit is a success and in the future we’re hoping to have annual summits where we focus on different key issues related to diversity.”


“Identity and Resiliency: An Exploration of the Black Experience in Academic Medicine.” The conference and reception will be held on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 4:30-7:30 p.m., at the School of Medicine and Public Health, Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Ave. Questions about the event may be directed to Lisa Tiedemann, latiedemann@wisc.edu, 608-263-5994.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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