Diversity, equity, and inclusion making inroads at VCH

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It was an idea started in 2018 when then Senior Medical Director Dr. Marcel Dvorak asked VPSA members two questions: why don’t women want to participate in VCH leadership roles, and, what’s holding them back? Those questions sparked a series of appreciative inquiries and events hosted by VPSA with over 65 physicians and VCH leaders taking part. The result was Using All our Talents: Meaningful Leadership Opportunities for Women Physicians at Vancouver Coastal Health. The report was presented to the VCH board, with its members endorsing all its recommendations. The board also asked the group to expand its scope of enquiry to what is holding back other medical staff from assuming leadership positions. The VCH Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee was born.

Over 45 physicians from Vancouver Acute, Vancouver Community, Richmond, and Coastal have been or are active members of the committee and its working groups.

“We realized early in the information gathering that two of the major stumbling blocks were a lack of DEI education and lack of skills-building opportunities to practice this knowledge,” said outgoing committee co-chair Dr. Lynn Straatman. “That’s why we focused our energies on these. We held large events as well as offering leadership- and EDI-focused workshops. We also created a women’s discussion group that meets monthly to provide skill building, mentorship and support. The latter started with five participants and now has 42 members.”

A medical staff diversity survey was held in fall 2020 to collect data. The themes that emerged were a perceived lack of diversity in medical leadership, particularly among senior leaders. Also, our culture lacks diversity tolerance and does not support inclusion of all people. There is a lack of support around significant life events. Survey participants gave strong support to continue addressing shortcomings in DEI.

“We need DEI data that is robust and accurate,” said Dr. Straatman. “It can’t be collected by voluntary survey tools as demonstrated by the low response rates to many surveys already conducted at VCH and it needs continually updating. We can then use data to check, benchmark, and assess efforts to improve DEI. The data can also be used to monitor and ensure equitable search and selection processes.”

Focus groups have been an important source of information for the DEI Committee. Women physicians talked about their experiences during COVID-19 in 2020; IBPOC physician focus groups were held in 2021, and surveys, interviews and focus groups with 2SLGBTQI+ physicians will begin in 2022.

“We have heard from many colleagues who have experiences of exclusion and discrimination,” said Dr. Joy Masuhara, who was recently appointed as VCH’s first Regional Director Medical for DEI. “Most incidents go unreported… there are multiple barriers to this. Our focus groups also cite a lack of diversity in our health authority’s leadership.”

To address these issues, more data collection is needed to inform solutions and measure progress.

“These groups also need to be engaged by the system; and we need to use DEI best practices for search and selection. There need to be better reporting processes. We’re also recommending more education and training, especially for leaders. Effective communication is a must,” added Dr. Masuhara.

DEI practices are being incorporated into the medical staff search and selection process. The recent recruitment of the VA associate senior medical directors (now senior medical directors) represented a best-practice approach to recruitment and will inform and be incorporated into the broader policy.

“There has been some initial consultation with the DEI working groups on the search and selection policy and VCH has committed to continuing this consultation as this policy continues to evolve,” said VCH Engagement and Contract Strategies Executive Director Michael Ducie.

The committee’s priorities over the coming year include continuing to collect data with a focus on inclusion metrics and monitoring progress. To assist with the need for more education, the committee is looking into resources for self-education as well as more events tailored for medical staff. Training for leaders as well as skills building for allies are important as are continued advocacy and collaboration.

“The DEI Committee’s accomplishments over a short period of time are remarkable and VPSA is proud to be working closely with and promoting the group’s work,” said VPSA President Dr. Alison Harris. “Thank you to all the committee members for their commitment to making VCH a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Not only do our colleagues benefit from this, so too do our patients.”

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