The Importance of Diversity

February is Black History Month, a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of diversity in achieving our mission in the School of Medicine.

Besides being the right thing to do, increasing the on-campus presence of faculty members, staff, and students from a variety of backgrounds adds to the richness of our school, enhancing the teaching and learning that takes place within the walls. Our perspectives are widened, our frames of reference enlarged.

Diversity brings important quantifiable benefits as well.

Studies tell us that minorities receive care less often—and of lower quality—than their white counterparts. They also have higher death rates from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. The disparities are undeniable, having been amply documented. But research also shows that when they have racial and ethnic backgrounds in common with their providers, patients express greater trust in and satisfaction with the care they receive. Adherence to instructions increases, missed medical visits drop, and disparities begin to lessen.

These findings resonate because we know that social and cultural factors influence many aspects of health—and because the physician-patient relationship is such a personal one.

The benefits of diversity extend to medical students and, by implication, physicians. A seminal study published in JAMA in 2008 found that the greater the proportion of historically underrepresented minorities in a medical school’s student body, the more likely that students from that school (whatever their own race) “rate themselves as highly prepared to care for minority populations.”

Physicians from underrepresented groups in medicine are more likely to serve patients from low-income areas, addressing an enormous need. A 2013 JAMA Internal Medicine study reported that minority physicians provide health care for 54 percent of minority patients and seven in ten non-English-speaking patients in the U.S. African-American, Asian, and Hispanic patients were up to 26 times more likely to see minority physicians of their same race or ethnicity.

So we know what we have to do. But the hill is steep. Hispanics comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population while African-Americans make up 12.3 percent. But only 6.3 percent of physicians identify as African-American and 5.5 percent as Hispanic. The problem becomes even more pressing because demographics in this country are changing fast, and “minorities” will become the majority in a few decades.

At the SOM, our commitment to diversity is deep and expressed in many ways. Setting the tone and context, we have developed a five-year Diversity Strategic Action Plan that sets out our vision and serves as a roadmap for our efforts.

A key goal is increasing the numbers of women, minorities, and LGBT individuals in CWRU faculty and leadership positions. Steps we’ve taken include broadening our faculty searches, diversifying search committee membership, and supplying diversity training for search committee members.
We’re also building a “pipeline” for groups underrepresented in medicine by expanding minority student recruitment, providing new scholarships, collaborating more often with student affinity groups, and implementing several in-house efforts to support and retain faculty members, including FLEX, FRAME, mentoring, and diversity training for all SOM faculty, staff, and students. We have established the Louis J. Novak and Charles D. Angove LGBTQ Dialogue Series to heighten awareness of LGBTQ-related issues and enhance our communication skills.

Seeking to reach younger students, the Robbins Bridge Program, a partnership with John Hay High School, works to inspire and prepare Cleveland’s next generation of medical professionals via academic programming, tutoring, internships, and mentoring by CWRU-University Hospitals’ staff and students. Outstanding Hay students have an opportunity to attend Case Western Reserve University and the School of Medicine on a full-tuition scholarship. Our Horizons program is a mentoring experience for students at the MC2-STEM high school. And, we hire 3-4 students per year from the St. Martin de Porres School for their work-study program. For years, we have had a Summer Enrichment Opportunities Program for high school students in inner city Cleveland. These programs have been successful in increasing graduation rates and college entrance.

We offer several programs for underrepresented individuals in biomedical science, including the Post Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), which works to increase scholarly success among minority students planning to earn a PhD in the biomedical sciences through paid research experience, mentoring, and academic support. The Office of Diversity, Initiatives, and Community Engagement sponsors activities throughout the year, including a summer program for prospective biomedical graduate and medical students, monthly research luncheons, and targeted educational and acculturation programming.

Our diversity efforts are tightly linked to our community-based projects. The School of Medicine has long invested in partnerships and programs that improve health in our community, particularly those from minority backgrounds. For example, we are donating free office space and equipment to and serving as fiscal agent for First Year Cleveland, a collaboration of government, non-profit, and health care organizations working to reduce infant mortality in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

We’re active participants in Health Improvement Partnership- Cuyahoga (HIP-Cuyahoga), which promotes healthy living by improving chronic disease management and expanding access to healthy foods. The CWRU Student-Run Free Clinic supplies on-site health care and conducts health-related outreach activities. And our Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods develops, tests, and carries out programs to prevent and reduce chronic disease.

The bottom line is that we are committed to ensuring that diversity is and remains a high-profile focus of attention throughout the School of Medicine. The benefits are significant, it’s the right thing to do, and we remain unwavering in our efforts. We’d be delighted if you could join in the effort.


Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD
Dean, School of Medicine
Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, Case Western Reserve University
Arline and Curtis Garvin Research Professor
2109 Adelbert Rd. BRB 113
Cleveland OH 44106
Phone 216-368-2825
FAX 216-368-2820