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UR School of Nursing, Medical School Earn Recognition for Diversity

Carol Elizabeth Owens

Mitchell Wharton is a leader in the UR School of Nursing’s efforts at diversity, which have drawn national attention. Photo provided by University of Rochester

How important is sensitivity to racial and cultural diversity when it comes to the delivery of health care?

“Cultural humility is needed in order to attain patient health outcomes that are the best they can be,” said Kathy Rideout, vice president of the University of Rochester Medical Center and dean/professor of clinical nursing and pediatrics at the School of Nursing (SON).

Mitchell Wharton is the second African American man to graduate from SON’s doctoral program. He said the nursing school is “aware of social dynamics that have a disproportionate impact on patients’ health.”

Wharton is an assistant professor of clinical nursing at SON, and serves as a faculty advisor to UR’s Council on Diversity and Inclusiveness through the school’s Leading with Integrity for Tomorrow (LIFT) program. Rideout is also involved in LIFT, which focuses on recognizing racial inequities and challenging racism in the school’s practices, clinical, scientific and academic coursework.

The awareness of and efforts around diversity have led to UR’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine and Dentistry being named December 2019 recipients of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine’s HEED award. INSIGHT into Diversity is the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. HEED stands for “higher education excellence in diversity.”

Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine said, “HEED award recipients are selected based on a school’s demonstration of active initiatives that show campus-wide efforts such as recruitment and retention strategies for students and employees, leadership support, best practices and many other aspects of campus diversity and inclusion… we make sure that diversity is a part of the curriculum.”

With the HEED award, UR’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine and Dentistry are recognized as top colleges for diversity in health professions, and they are featured in the December 2019 issue of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine.

According to Pearlstein, one reason UR’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine and Dentistry were selected to receive the HEED award is that they are taking steps to ensure that diversity and inclusion are a part of the curriculum, instruction and campus environment.

The School of Nursing is receiving this award for the third consecutive year. The School of Medicine and Dentistry is receiving it for the first time, on its first attempt.

Rideout said the HEED award is a reflection of the school’s values.

“Diversity has been a core part of our mission for several years … applying for and receiving this award really demonstrates the level of our commitment to having our workforce reflect the patients we serve. We want people to know that we put a priority on diversifying our faculty and student body, and the HEED award brings national attention to our entire medical center.”

Wharton serves as co-leader of the school’s Racial Equity Learning Series, which addresses racism by examining ways that prejudice and injustice come from unconscious and conscious beliefs about who matters in society and who does not.

“We are attempting to achieve equity in recruitment, retention and promotion … you should be able to see yourself here – succeeding,” Wharton said. The HEED award “demonstrates UR SON’s conscious efforts toward equity and actively addressing diversity issues.”

According to Rideout, the school’s LIFT program “expands students’ sensitivity to underrepresented populations through diversity education, including peer-sponsored workshops on diversity which discusses topics such as healthcare disparities, food insecurity, domestic violence, cultural / community dynamics and racism.”

In terms of the student body, one example of SON’s commitment to diversity is shown by the demographics of the January 2020 incoming class of nursing students. According to data provided by the university, 39% of the new students are from underrepresented races and ethnic cultures, such as African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and international groups.

Rideout said SON’s incoming class has a higher percentage of men in nursing than the national average.

As the community becomes more diverse, cultural competency becomes crucial to good outcomes.

“If I understand racial and cultural differences, the care I provide will be better suited to meet the patients’ needs,” Rideout said. “Differences are not a better than or less than— cultural humility is needed in order to attain patient health outcomes that are the best they can be.”

Diversity in the classroom and workplace encompasses a “uniqueness that our students bring to the school and their clinical settings,” said Rideout. “There are certain things they know because they have lived it — I can read about it, but I haven’t lived it.”

She said “SON recognizes how different races and cultures may have different perspectives on various aspects of their healthcare, and we are working to teach all of our students and faculty the importance of respecting patients’ different needs, different thoughts and different beliefs.”

The School of Nursing encourages nursing students from underrepresented groups to advance their careers through a post-bachelor accelerated program and doctorate level education. The school offers two undergraduate nursing students from underrepresented groups a full tuition scholarship each year. After graduating, these students are given financial support, in the form of a dean’s diversity scholarship and dean’s diversity fellowship to help them earn their doctorate education.

“It takes time to get people through the academic and professional system, which is why it is so important to build a pipeline of nursing students and professionals at each academic, faculty and clinical level,” Rideout said.

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