Diversity & Inclusion MattersApril 28, 2017

Spring 2017

Vice Dean’s Message 

Guest Column: Melanie Rak,'96 MD 

Alumni Column: Carla Hightower, '87 MD, '91 GME, 02 MBA 

Research Spotlight: Sheehan D. Fisher, PhD

Pathway to Medicine: Melanie Rak, '96 MD 

Pathway to Feinberg: Elizabeth Groothuis, MD, '14 GME 

Students and Residents Travel to LMSA, SNMA 

New Promotional Videos 

Recent Happenings  

New Student Organization: Chicago Graduate/Professional Students of Color Association 

Engaging Mentorship 

Upcoming Events

From the Vice Dean, Diversity and Inclusion

James Chandler, MD, Lavin/Fates Professor of Neurological Surgery, presents at the Student National Medical Association’s Medical Education Conference on April 13.

Welcome to another issue of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Diversity and Inclusion newsletter. If you have been with us from the beginning, you know that in our first year, we focused on simply raising awareness. Our conviction was that ours is a diverse academic medical center, but we were absent a central galvanizing point. That has changed as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Diversity and Inclusion Council and the staff leadership of Diversity and Inclusion have worked together to make certain that we know each other and know the work that each of us does to enhance our diversity and broaden our inclusivity. As such, we — and you — can feel the cultural nudges that are creating an openness for discussion and tolerance that is emerging as class leading among major academic medical centers. This is appropriate for Northwestern and is very representative of Chicago. 

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Guest Column: Melanie Rak, '96 MD

"That Thing"

I first learned about microaggressions during an online competency training for Stroger Hospital, where I do pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation consults. Though the training was directed primarily at microaggressions related to race and ethnic backgrounds, I saw myself as someone who experiences these daily, related to my disability. I have osteogenesis imperfecta, and have used a wheelchair since childhood. I consider poor accessibility to be an extension of the attitude of “otherness” that leads to microaggressions. Recently I attended a diversity lecture in a building on the Chicago campus of Northwestern and was disappointed with the lack of seating options for a wheelchair user. 

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Alumni Column: Carla Hightower, '87 MD, '91 GME, '02 MBA

I deeply appreciate the education and training I received during my years as an Honors Program in Medical Education student at Northwestern. I was fortunate to be in an environment where the faculty were committed to the success of each student. The program was truly intense. I was amazed how much pop culture escaped me during that time. Becoming a doctor tends to be all-consuming. Nevertheless, I received a great education and formed life-long friendships during medical school. 

After graduating, I remained at Northwestern for my residency in anesthesiology. The program was special because it emphasized the importance of developing good judgment. My former anesthesiology department chairman Edward Brunner, MD, PhD, often shared memorable advice that applied to every area of life. For example, he said that our success was simply a measure of our degree of preparation.

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Research Spotlight: Sheehan D. Fisher, PhD

Sheehan Fisher’s research and clinical interests focus on the effects of perinatal and parental mental health on infant and child health outcomes, with a specialization in the emerging field of the mental health of fathers. More specifically, he examines: 1) the biopsychosocial risk factors for parental psychopathology, 2) the impact of parental psychopathology on parenting behaviors and the family environment, and 3) the combined effect of the family environment on infant/child medical and emotional health outcomes. The goal of his research plan is to optimize the health and effectiveness of the parental team to positively influence the child health trajectory beginning in infancy. 

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Pathway to Medicine: Melanie Rak, '96 MD

“I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as it’s healthy”

This is something we hear repeatedly when discussing an expected baby. Certainly, I understand why people say this. But as a wheelchair-using physician who cares for children with disabilities, the underlying sentiment is that disability is necessarily negative. I see it more as a fact of life; there’s about a 50 percent chance that each person will have a disability at some point in his or her life. For some, this is temporary. For many of us, it’s permanent. But most non-disabled people are surprised to hear someone with a spinal cord injury say she wouldn’t choose to cure her disability if a miracle cure was suddenly available. Some others are so focused on a cure and walking again that they essentially put their lives on hold. For many of us with longstanding disabilities, the disability is a part of our life that others focus on more than we do.

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Pathway to Feinberg: Elizabeth Groothuis, MD, '14 GME

I don't think any of my friends or family are surprised that I became a doctor. I’m not surprised by that, either — I’ve wanted to be in medicine for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was recently reminded that I was a doctor for Halloween when I was seven. When someone asked what I was dressed up as, I said, “I’m a pediatrician!” Both of my parents are in medicine (my mom is a nurse and my dad is a doctor), and dinnertime conversations often centered on the interesting patients and diagnoses of the day. I also used to act out the TV show E.R. on the playground in elementary school. My friends and I thought we were super-cool, until our play-acting came to a grinding halt one day when we got in trouble for bringing some spare medical supplies to use in our playground “clinic” and were quickly told that our game was getting too real. I don’t remember ever making a conscious choice to pursue medicine as a career; it just always felt like what I wanted to do. What I’ve started to reflect on more recently, however, is how my choices in high school, college and medical school have led me to develop my own path within my pediatrics career.

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Students and Residents Travel to Support LMSA, SNMA

A group of Northwestern medical students, residents, faculty and staff recently traveled to Atlanta to join more than 1,800 pre-medical and medical students from across the country to participate in the Student National Medical Association’s (SNMA) Medical Education Conference.

The annual SNMA conference is one of the largest gatherings of underrepresented minority medical students in the country, and was organized around the theme, “Lighting the Way: Creating Health Equity through Education, Advocacy and Service.” The five-day conference highlighted the importance of clinical excellence and community engagement in solving the health disparities of today, and focused on opportunities for students to grow as future physicians.

Photo: M1 students (left to right), Elsy Compres, Mateo Zambrano Navia, and Niki Stewart Holtzman represented Feinberg at the Latino Medical Student Association regional conference hosted by the University of Michigan Medical School.

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New Promotional Videos

A highlight of the Student National Medical Association Medical Education's Conference each year is the Northwestern University McGaw Mix and Mingle social event, where students can gain a true sense of what it is like to be a member of the Northwestern community by interacting with Northwestern Medicine residents and faculty. In an effort to provide attendees with a clear perspective of Northwestern’s culture of diversity and inclusion through the eyes of a range of underrepresented minorities, Clyde Yancy, MD, vice dean for Diversity and Inclusion, presented three new promotional videos at this year's Mix and Mingle. In the videos, members of the Feinberg and Northwestern Medicine community open a window into their personal experiences, providing insights for those eager to join the community.  

In one video, LGBTQ community member Julie Barton, ’88 MD, ’92 GME, clinical assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, talks about her experiences as a medical student, resident and physician at Northwestern. “I came here in the 80s as a student. I think back then it was very, very different. We felt as if we had to be very careful sometimes, that it might affect our careers. But over time that’s really changed.”  

Another video features several residents sharing their experiences of inclusion at Northwestern. Quentin Youmans, '15 MD, a resident in Internal Medicine, comments, “Here at Northwestern, I don’t feel like just a number. I don’t feel like just a check-box in that diversity column. I feel like I am a valued member of the team. And because of that, I am able to excel at a level where it is expected that I will be an excellent physician.” 

A final video features obstetrics & gynecology resident Sharlay Butler, MD, whose family became homeless for a period of time after her mother became ill and lost her job. Butler addresses how Northwestern embraces individuals who hail from a range of backgrounds. “Right from the start on my interview day this was a place that read every line of my application. And I felt like they knew me. I wanted to say that I am resilient, that I am passionate and that I am committed and hardworking. And I felt when Northwestern read my application and they asked me questions about those things that is exactly what they got from it. They are looking for people with experiences like mine and feel just as strongly as I do that my experiences add value.”  

Recent Happenings

Quentin Youmans, '15 MD, has vivid memories of his days as a Feinberg medical student. Although those years were some of the best of his life, he does not hesitate to vocalize that many underrepresented minority (URM) medical students face unique challenges in medical education. A lack of the same resources and exposure had by non-URM students often results in many URM students having a more difficult time navigating the medical education system. In consideration of ways to address this globally systemic problem, Youmans believes URM residents are uniquely equipped to provide support and mentoring to URM medical students because many of them faced and overcame the same challenges.

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New Student Organization: Chicago Graduate/Professional Students of Color Association

by Lisa Wren (CGSCA president)

Graduate and professional school is challenging for everyone. There are lectures and seminars to attend, tests to study for, experiments to conduct, and the struggles of trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance. In addition to academic challenges, there are external stressors that result from past and current societal issues that can have a less-than-positive impact on the underrepresented minority student (URM) population. For example, it is common for URM students to experience imposter syndrome. To counter these challenges and to provide targeted academic and social support, a group of URMs established the Chicago Graduate Students of Color Association (CGSCA). Although CGSCA was formed to address challenges faced by URM students, the group enthusiastically welcomes all graduate and professional students. 

CGSCA’s goal is to create a comfortable academic and social community for Chicago-based students where they can form lasting friendships across disciplines. CGSCA organizes workshops, study groups, and social activities to help students navigate the ups and downs of graduate and professional school. Group members also participate in community service and outreach activities. A sample of past social events include rap karaoke night at Café Mustache, movie night at AMC Theaters, and a trip to the DuSable Museum of African American History. The group welcomes your questions and suggestions, cgsca.nu@gmail.com.  

Engaging Mentorship

Mentorship is an important cornerstone for welcoming and preparing underrepresented minorities who have a desire to enter the healthcare profession. In an effort to help cultivate future leaders in medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine champions mentoring at various levels. At the high school level, FSM partners with George Westinghouse College Prep, a Chicago Public School with a mission to address underrepresentation in STEM and health-related careers. At the opposite end of the continuum, FSM supports the Northwestern McGaw Underrepresented Residents and Fellows Forum (NMURFF). 

Jennifer Parker, MD, PhD, resident physician, Department of Radiation Oncology, NMURFF President 2016-2017 and Janet Rocha, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program, provide insights regarding how their organizations support and promote mentoring through NMURFF and Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program, respectively.

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Upcoming Events

McGaw Medical Center Residency Showcase 
Saturday, April 29 | 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 
McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University hosts an annual showcase to increase diversity in McGaw's residency programs.

Urban Native American Health Panel
Thursday, May 11 | 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Weiboldt Hall 105, 340 E. Superior St., Chicago, IL
Panelists include Dr. Jessica Ryan (Choctaw), Behavioral Health Director of American Indian Health Services in Chicago and Dr. Amy West (Southern Cheyenne), Director of psychology training at UIC College of Medicine.

Northwestern University’s Medical Grand Rounds 
Tuesday, May 16 | 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. 
“Diversity and Research” Hannah A. Valantine, MD, Chief Officer for Scientific Workplace Diversity at the National Institutes of Health.  
Feinberg Pavilion, 3rd floor Mecklenburg Conference Room A

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?

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