Pritzker School of Medicine makes diversity and inclusion central to its mission

February 17, 2020

  • Bringing D&I to the forefront of medicine

    Diversity is central to the University of Chicago’s mission of discovery. However, at the Pritzker School of Medicine, the need for increased diversity is also pragmatic: to improve patient care.

    "Diversity in the medical workforce better prepares us to care for a diverse patient population," said James N. Woodruff, MD, Professor of Medicine and Dean of Students at Pritzker. "As a result, our admissions team is trying to build diversity in our student body among all groups, but especially in groups that are underrepresented in medicine."

    Traditionally, individuals who are underrepresented in medicine (UIM) include African American, Latinx, and Native Americans. The national medical school average of UIM students is only about 12%. Due to the many efforts Pritzker has made to recruit and retain more diverse students, the most recent entering class was composed of 31% UIM students, and 20% of the entire Pritzker student body (84 out of 416 students) is UIM. 

    Making D&I a focus right from the start

    A driving force of this success can be attributed to the school’s numerous pipeline programs, which attract high school and college students from across the country and prepare them to pursue careers in medicine and health-related research. Two pipeline programs, Chicago Academic Medicine Program (CAMP) 1 and 2, are primarily designed for UIM students. An additional force is an admissions team committed to addressing the country’s workforce needs. Pritzker’s Office of Admissions works closely with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to develop effective strategies for recruiting and enrolling UIM students. These efforts receive strong support from the leadership of the Biological Sciences Division and the medical school.

    Once students arrive on campus, Pritzker works to ensure that diversity and inclusion remain top priorities. All first-year students are required to complete the school’s Health Care Disparities: Equity and Advocacy course, a unique program that combines classroom lectures with community-based experiences in order to give students a firsthand understanding of health disparities to prepare them to be better caregivers going forward.

    "This course breaks down barriers and encourages people to engage in civil discourse," Woodruff said. "Students have this experience at the beginning of their medical school program. Several other schools have adopted this formula, but most medical schools don’t have a course like this. We’ve been running this course for the past 14 years."

    Developing a strong planning committee 

    To ensure that students continue having these types of conversations beyond their first year, Pritzker promotes ongoing inclusive learning and practice through the Identity and Inclusion Committee (i2i), which was founded in 2016. Composed of students, faculty, and staff, the i2i Committee meets regularly to discuss community challenges, review annual climate survey data, and create meaningful programming that supports multiple forms of discourse. Examples include civil discourse workshops centered around contemporary and controversial topics with the goal of teaching members of the medical school community how to listen carefully and refrain from making assumptions in their interactions with others. Other programs have included workshops on spirituality in medicine and stereotyping, book discussions focused on issues of identity, and various arts events tied to themes of diversity and inclusion. People may also apply for i2i small grants in order to fund their own related events. 

    Along with program implementation, Pritzker continues taking additional steps to create a more inclusive environment. A prayer and meditation room was created in the Donnelly Biological Sciences Learning Center, along with a lactation room and gender-neutral restroom. To promote gender inclusivity, pronoun stickers were created for optional use on hospital ID badges, and members of the Pritzker community are encouraged to include their pronouns in their email signatures. Safe space training is offered to all Pritzker deans and directors along with many other educational trainings on diversity and inclusion issues. 

    Pritzker has successfully made diversity and inclusion part of the fabric of the school. In the next two months, the school’s calendar includes an annual town hall meeting to review climate survey results, an i2i Book Club on Season of the Northern Migration by Tayeb Salih, a civil discourse event on the topic of unionization and labor strikes by health professionals, and an admissions revisit weekend with dedicated programming for UIM students that includes a lecture by Jewel Mullen, MD, MPH, former Principal Deputy Assistant Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What may be most unique about these efforts is that no team at Pritzker works in a silo—all departments support the mission of diversity and inclusion as sustainable priorities.

    Learn more about Pritzker's D&I efforts here.