Through medical education, research and the delivery of state-of-the-art healthcare, UMMC is invaluable to the lives of Mississippians. The mission of UMMC physicians has never been more critical than during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The last two years have been rife with struggles but UMMC has been resolute and demonstrated a strong reliance on teamwork, crisis management and a commitment to equity in healthcare delivery. Minority populations in Mississippi carried a disproportionately heavy burden from COVID-19, which is merely a reflection of the longstanding inequitable care. Mistrust of science and the healthcare system, poor information dissemination and the pervasiveness of misinformation are some of the reasons healthcare inequity is commonplace. Repairing trust and disseminating truth to minority patients requires extra time and effort and UMMC physicians are stepping up every day. Minority physicians are critical to this effort and UMMC must invest in workforce diversity. 

A diverse physician population enriches research ideas and medical education and garners greater trust between doctors and the community. Diversity also raises UMMC’s profile among academic medical institutions, thereby attracting the brightest medical minds. 

Pandemics, complex disease states, aging patient populations and social inequities that promote disease are exasperating daily challenges for UMMC doctors. These will undoubtedly continue and become more difficult.  Growing challenges necessitate hard work and innovative solutions. The research and medical teaching at this institution must meet these challenges and a diversity-oriented approach to hiring helps facilitate this. Physicians and researchers of diverse backgrounds bring a wealth of new perspectives in healthcare. 

Physicians at UMMC see and care for all Mississippians who represent a melting pot of differing races, ethnicities, genders, languages, sexual orientations, religions and cultural customs. Having a physician workforce that mirrors this diversity improves patient care. Patients who identify with the doctor beyond the traditional doctor-patient relationship will have greater trust and sense of wellbeing facilitating patient-centered care. This further translates into better healthcare engagement, the delivery of preventative and therapeutic measures where they are most needed, and a much lower morbidity and mortality toll from the current and future pandemics. Physicians make seventy to ninety percent of diagnoses based on patient history alone; hence the importance of good communication. Cultural differences should never be a barrier to communication. A more mixed UMMC physician group will be more able to overcome such barriers, have a fuller understanding of the effect of cultural differences on disease, and be more equipped to care for all types of patients. 

Investment in a more inclusive medical workforce will send a strong message that UMMC values diversity in thought and is committed to the growth that will meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.  The positive feedback of an inclusive national profile will attract talented physicians, mentors, and researchers from all over as UMMC carves out its place as a center of education, research and healthcare excellence. The pilot project our department is conducting with the AAMC is one of the things we are doing to make a more dedicated investment in diversity in terms of faculty recruitment and retention. It’s one step in the investment, but we still have more work to do.

Dr. Wells is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine.

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