Diversity & Inclusion MattersNovember 20, 2015

Winter 2016

Vice Dean's Message

For this our second Feinberg Office of Diversity and Inclusion newsletter, we must acknowledge the obvious and address it forthrightly.

Today finds us in a different place and time socially than we have previously known or navigated. Microaggressions, first described in 1970 by Chester Pierce, MD, address experiences that transmit negative messages uniquely felt by target groups and now drive much of the discourse at institutions of higher learning. Though the epicenter of this social movement is for now at various undergraduate institutions in this country, we recognize that graduate and professional schools are not immune. Certainly we have peer academic medical centers that have had to navigate a cultural pause and reset in response to concerns raised by engaged students. These episodes have rekindled sensitive and sometimes emotive discussions regarding racial, gender and sexual equality in our social networks. When interpreted literally, many of these affronts may be aptly described as trivial. Especially when compared to events we’ve experienced and successfully addressed in the history of medicine, such as omission of informed consent, injurious human research, segregated wards, minimal supervision of care given to impoverished patients and overt episodes of biased decision making, we do wonder: What is the goal of today’s sensitivities?

Today’s events should not be dismissed. We ought to encourage and embrace the honest dialogue that this movement elicits as the goal is sufficiently clear and especially so in an academic medical center. Our environment is unique, as all of our efforts are ultimately aligned with improving the human condition. The context that sets our agenda for health, healthcare and biomedical science is in part set by the cultural environment, and that environment must be one in which equity is a strong attribute – about this we must be unyielding. When we experience a microaggression, it is only a surrogate for the state of our culture. To focus solely on the discrete episode, (as many academic leaders have done at other institutions), misses the mark. We should all think differently; these episodes occur only because we have a permissive environment. Our goal as professionals focused on health is to pursue excellence that is blind to color/race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation. That goal is attainable only when we focus on a more culturally competent space. Microaggressions are indeed hurtful, but it is the culture that is the root cause and therein lies the target for change.

How will this happen at Feinberg? There is no perfect blueprint. We are no closer to a solution than any other institution of higher education but we at Northwestern have adopted a proactive strategy. Most importantly, we have buy-in from Northwestern University and Feinberg’s topmost leadership. We have already begun the conversations with different constituencies within our entire campus. We have taken steps to introduce cultural competency in our community; we have in place a leadership and infrastructure hierarchy specifically in Diversity & Inclusion with entry points for medical students, graduate students, resident physicians, fellows and faculty. Our web-based materials are fluid and provide real-time information exchange as needed. And when necessary, we have a grievance process in place that will address all concerns and lead to the best possible resolutions appropriate for all involved. We don’t represent that we have done enough or that we have even taken the right steps, but we do commit that we are aware, that we will be responsive and that we will be indefatigable in our quest for the best environment to improve the lives of those who trust us for our care, our knowledge and our touch.

Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc, Vice Dean of Diversity and Inclusion

Meet Jabbar Bennett Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion

Jabbar Bennett

On October 1, 2015, I joined Northwestern University as the inaugural associate provost for diversity and inclusion. As the institution’s chief diversity officer, I am the primary administrator responsible for leading and coordinating university-wide diversity and inclusion strategy and implementation. A mission of this magnitude cannot be achieved by one person, but requires collaboration from every member of the Northwestern student, faculty, staff and alumni community.

Over the past several months, students at Northwestern and around the country have displayed admirable valor and unwavering commitment to their personal morals and social values. During public forums held in Evanston, students have shared their experiences on our campus and described personal feelings of distress and isolation. They speak of pain they feel and heaviness in their hearts on behalf of their classmates and other students around the nation. This agony is also felt by faculty, staff and alumni, and my colleagues and I vow to help relieve the anguish. It is clear that we must operate differently to become a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and welcoming community to all.

As a leading 21st century university, Northwestern remains vigilant and proactive in acknowledging and addressing the very important personal, cultural, social and politically-charged issues that are impacting members of underrepresented groups on our campuses, as well as their families, friends and citizens across the United States. I believe firmly that our brightest days are ahead and charge you to hold us accountable – broad team and diverse perspectives are paramount to the success of this work.

Perspectives on Diversity

MD/PhD Student Warren Alexander McGee on Religious Diversity

After a long, animated discussion that touched on topics of ethics, philosophy, and theology, I was stopped cold when my friend told me in exasperation, “Warren, that’s not what the Catholic Church teaches!” If I’m Catholic, and he’s an avowed agnostic, how could he say that? Ironically, he was right. He had been taught by Jesuits in high school and had received a good understanding of Catholic thought, though he did not believe any of it. Though I had grown up Catholic all my life, there were many things that I still needed to learn. There was a further irony in this: conversations with an agnostic were a major factor for me as a Catholic deciding to walk away from the Church to return it. This anecdote serves as my starting point to reflect on religious diversity at Feinberg. Just as the medical encounter is a balance of the physicians’ sense of what is best for the patient with what the patient’s own perspective on what’s best, I believe we should keep the same balance in mind when it comes to answers regarding God, purpose, and meaning in our lives.

On those “big” questions, there are a plethora of perspectives at Feinberg. We are all searching for fulfillment and meaning in our lives, whether we think they are something objective we must discover, or they are something we must construct for ourselves.

Read more »

Diversity & Inclusion Glossary

Cultural Competency

Delivering services in a manner that is respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients.

View the full glossary of terms here. »

Research on the Forefront

Cultural Competency in Transplantation: A Call for Action

Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD, ’06 GME, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Organ Transplantation, is director of Northwestern Medicine’s Hispanic Transplant Program, the first culturally competent and congruent Hispanic transplant program in the country to improve access to care, organ donation and transplantation disparities affecting Hispanics, who represent the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States. The program maintains that acknowledgement and practice of cultural competency has a positive effect on patient care delivery by enabling providers to deliver services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients. Since its launch in 2006, the Hispanic Tranplant Program has significantly increased the number of Hispanic patients on the waiting list for kidney and liver transplantation, as well as the number of living and deceased donor transplantations. The program has also significantly decreased disparities in kidney and liver transplantation among Hispanics compared to Non-Hispanic whites.

Family Environment and Metabolic Syndrome in the Hispanic Community

Frank Penedo, PhD, Roswell Park Professor of Medical Social Sciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and colleagues evaluated associations between family environment (cohesion/conflict) and the metabolic syndrome (MetS), a group of interrelated cardiovascular disease risk factors, in a diverse sample of US Hispanics/Latinos. A total of 3,278 participants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos underwent a clinical exam and completed psychosocial measures including family environment as a part of the Sociocultural Ancillary Study. Family environment and MetS were moderated by sex. Higher family conflict was associated with MetS prevalence among women in particular. Moreover, in the context of ancestry group, higher conflict was associated with MetS for Cuban women only, and for Dominican men greater cohesion was associated with MetS. The team concluded that family context may be a sociocultural protective or risk factor among Hispanics/Latinos in regard to MetS risk, but that the associations may vary by sex and Hispanic background. The results of the study were published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 

Growing Diversity In Doctoral Programs

A recent study published in Academic Medicine showed that coaching boosts PhD students’ confidence in achieving academic careers in science. “This study opens the door to new ways of thinking and intervening to take on what seems to be the intractable problem of low racial and ethnic diversity in faculty ranks,” said senior study author Richard McGee, PhD, associate dean for faculty recruitment and professional development, and professor of Medical Education.

“Envisioning and working towards a career starts long before someone submits a resume for a job. It starts as we watch others around us doing those jobs, read about the rewards and costs of doing them and start to learn what it will take to be successful. Academic careers are very challenging and the goal of our coaching approach is to help make those challenges feel more achievable. By engaging these highly experienced and skilled professionals as coaches to complement the mentoring students receive, we are seeing it is possible to demystify academic careers and more systematically provide the skills needed to be successful in them. At the same time, it is essential to acknowledge and help mitigate through the coaching groups the very real impacts of being different with the social and psychological implications.” 

Pathway to Medicine

Eric G. Neilson, MD, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean

I remember always wanting to be a physician. No one in my family had ever been a doctor, and no one is sure how I latched on to this notion at such an early age. Maybe it was the house calls we received from our pipe-smoking pediatrician when I was feverish. However, after arriving and poking around with a tongue depressor, he was as likely as not to give me an injection of penicillin from a dullish needle and syringe that my mother first had to boil on our kitchen stove.

I also remember, as a small child, crying on my back porch during summers in the mid-1950s because my mother wouldn’t let me play outside with other kids for fear of catching polio. Then there was that moment of turmoil in our house one evening when my parents told me I would be receiving a hypodermic of Salk vaccine when I got to school the next morning. I sometimes wonder if these unwelcomed mini-traumas fueled my inspired moment.

Continue reading »

Pathway to Feinberg

Seok-Jo Kim, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care

As a student in Korea, challenges with atopic dermatitis impacted my ability to earn excellent grades. During that period, I did not want people to see my face. I struggled physically and mentally. My parents helped me reach a breakthrough in my sophomore year of high school by introducing me to the power of positive thinking. They worked with me to integrate three principles into my daily life, endurance, adherence, and balance, which manifested like this: When I wanted to scratch my itchy skin, I moved my hand from my face and counted to 20 (endurance); Each study session included reading, writing, and speaking (adherence); And I gave equal time to study, exercise, and nutrition (balance). It was tremendously difficult to make these changes, but with my parents help, I was able to change my entire lifestyle. Within a few months, my skin condition improved, as did my self-confidence and my grades. As a result I was able to enter university and begin my pathway to the Feinberg School of Medicine. 

Continue reading »

Featured Student Groups


Each year, Feinberg’s Student National Medical Association (SNMA) student group coordinates and hosts the Health Professions Recruitment & Exposure Program (HPREP). The program aims to provide a foundation for high school students interested in pursuing a career as a health professional, such as a physician, nurse, physical therapist or pharmacist. Participants hear minority health professionals discuss issues at the forefront of medicine and learn from minority medical students on a regular basis.

“I became involved in HPREP because I enjoy mentoring prospective students who will hopefully fill my shoes,” said first year medical student Javier Suarez. “I did not have many opportunities to experience what health careers truly entailed, and certainly none with the kind of comprehensive interactive activities HPREP offers. I feel privileged to be a part of a program that at worst will give high school and college students a memorable experience that sets them apart from the average student and at best will serve as a valuable source of inspiration and knowledge for their future endeavors.”

Photo, from left to right, shows: Martin Mutonga (treasurer), Nada Ali (secretary), Fatima Lakhani (vice president), and Beverly Onyekwuluje (president).

LMSA Announces New Board of Directors

The Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) is a group of students passionate about increasing Hispanic cultural awareness and outreach to Hispanic communities. Their goal is to aid students in their understanding and appreciation of the Hispanic culture through connecting, collaborating and inspiring each other with service and exposure.

Photo, from left to right, shows: Tatiana Carrasquilla (co-president), Javier Suarez (co-president), Mellie Montoya (secretary), and Hector Perez (board member). Not pictured are Kristen Mollura (treasurer) and Daniella Ohnemus (board member).

Featured Programs

Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program

The Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program at Westinghouse College Prep provides opportunities for outstanding high school students from underrepresented populations in the greater Chicago area to explore and be better prepared for potential careers in medicine as future physicians and biomedical scientists. Meet Guillermo Camarillo and Matteo Geatti, two scholars from the Class of 2016 who share their experiences with the program. 

Read more »

SQ Scholars

SQ Scholars is a five-year, selective, competitive program affiliated with Big Shoulders Fund that rewards academically promising, need-based students attending Catholic schools throughout Chicago. During December 2015, SQ Scholars visited the Ronald McDonald House associated with Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Students made fleece blankets for Ronald McDonald House guests, toured the facility and learned about healthcare careers from a range of Lurie Children’s Hospital healthcare professionals.


Events & Announcements

  •  Check out photos from our recent events on Flickr:

    Diversity and Inclusion Recruitment Activities

    Diversity and Inclusion Meeting 

    MLK Commemoration 2016

  • Out Network Spring Mixer
    Friday, April 22, 5 - 7:00 p.m.
    Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
    225 E Chicago Ave, next door to the Prentice Women's Hospital
  • “Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons” exhibit coming to Feinberg School of Medicine 

    Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons celebrates the contributions of African American academic surgeons to medicine and medical education. It tells the stories of four pioneering African American surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields and believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of younger physicians and surgeons.

    The exhibit will be on display at Feinberg School of Medicine March 14th through April 22nd, 2016 through a partnership between the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

    Exhibit schedule:

    • March 14 – April 2 at Galter Health Sciences Library
    • April 3 – April 22 at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center

    An opening reception for the exhibit will be held March 14th from 4:00 – 5:00 PM at Galter Health Sciences Library.

    More information about the exhibit can be found at the National Library of Medicine project website, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/aframsurgeons/.

    Opening Doors is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the largest African American museum on the east coast of the United States. The exhibition is a celebration of the contributions of African American academic surgeons to medicine and medical education.

Have an idea for the newsletter or a comment on this issue? Would you like your research to be featured? Are you an alumnus who would like to share your experience?

Contact Teresa Mastin at teresa.mastin@northwestern.edu.