Medical School Diversity

One med school's innovative approach to diversity

Lyndra Vassar , News Writer

Educators often talk about the importance of promoting diversity in medical schools, but creating an actionable institutional plan to address diversity and inclusion efforts can be challenging. Read how one school has created a strategic diversity action plan that’s already spurring creative solutions and ideas. Plus, follow these five steps to begin creating a diversity action plan at your own school.

Half the dues, all the AMA benefits!

  • Exclusive education programs & key study guides to help you thrive.
  • Access to JAMA Network™, ClassPass gym discounts & more!

Supporting you today as a medical student. Protecting your future as a physician.


The core of OHSU’s diversity action plan

Faculty at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) view diversity as more than a part of medical school demographics—they consider it an investment. OHSU is a founding member of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium.

“We view diversity as an investment for our community and those that we serve,” said Leslie Garcia, the acting chief diversity officer and assistant vice provost at OHSU. She also serves as the director of the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which leads the school’s diversity initiatives to create an environment of respect and inclusion among students and faculty.

OHSU created and began implementing its official diversity action plan in 2010. Since then, the school has made significant strides in its diversity efforts, which have led to the creation of an official diversity advisory council, expanded student pipeline program opportunities, improvements to physical accessibility features on OHSU buildings, and new diversity guides and resources. From 2011 through 2014, the school also earned top marks in the Health Equity Index of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for providing equitable and inclusive care to LGBT patients.

“Ultimately for us, [diversity] is about serving the community,” said Garcia during a recent presentation of the school’s diversity action plan during a webinar hosted by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management. “Having a diversity action plan allows us to be innovative, creative and productive related to our mission. We know that we need to respond to key demographics and workforce changes and certainly meet the needs of [patients] in regards to health disparities and being able to address healthier communities.”

How med schools can create their own diversity action plans

Michael Tom, director of OHSU’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and co-chair of the Diversity Advisory Council, joined Garcia in sharing some of the key lessons OHSU has learned about promoting and creating a strategic diversity plan. They recommended that medical schools that are looking to transition from discussing diversity to strategically addressing it should follow five principles.

  • Align diversity with your medical school’s key mission - “Diversity should not operate by itself but should be integrated within your current mission [and] strategic plan,” Garcia said.  For instance, OHSU has made diversity a key goal within its strategic plan. The school aims to transform “from an institution that values diversity to one that lives the values of inclusion and equity across all mission areas, every day, in all aspects of our operations,” according to the school’s 2013-2014 Diversity and Inclusion Community Report.
  • Partner with leaders who value diversity and plan to actively address it - “When OHSU President Joe Robertson, MD, came on board, he started an agenda talking about diversity,” Tom said. “It was very transparent and visible.” Tom noted that Dr. Robertson set the school’s strategic plan with the goal of making OHSU a community that is “diverse in people and ideas with a strategy that [transforms]  OHSU from an organization that values diversity to one that lives it.” Under Dr. Robertson’s leadership, the school also created an executive diversity leadership committee..
  • Plan strategically, and measure your results - “Diversity action planning is a cycle that really has no end,” Garcia said. “You plan, you implement, you measure and revise.” For instance, OHSU conducted a “climate survey” in 2010 and 2014, asking various students and faculty at OHSU questions related to the school’s diversity and inclusion plan. “[The climate survey] was key to constructing our plan,” Garcia said. “This allowed us to learn from the voices of our community and propose actions in our diversity action plan.”
  • Invite multiple stakeholders to the table - If you have affirmative action, legal, human resources, faculty and student affairs and other departments at your school, invite leaders within each area to participate in conversations about your school’s diversity action plan. Inviting different people from various departments will “provide perspective buy-in and individual accountability as you develop the values that will guide your strategic plan,” Garcia said.
  • Make diversity a part of innovation - Creating a diverse community of students, residents and faculty can spur innovation in medical education and foster new ideas for physician training. Dr. Robertson implements this principle in his leadership, guidance and plans for diversity at the school, Tom said. “Being a diverse institution creates an intellectually vibrant climate, where a variety of ideas and perspectives work together to foster innovation,” Dr. Robertson wrote in the school’s 2013-2014 Diversity and Inclusion Community Report.

Want to explore more diversity solutions? Check out these med ed resources