5 Questions With Dr. Hugh Mighty on Diversity and Health Care | Healthiest Communities Health News

5 Questions With Dr. Hugh Mighty on Diversity and Health Care | Healthiest Communities Health News

Key Black leaders in health care converged in the nation’s capital this week to take part in a two-day summit focused on health equity, examining how approaches are evolving to meet the needs of vulnerable communities and how board leaders and executives can address hurdles and headwinds standing in the way of meaningful change.

Among the summit’s participants was Dr. Hugh Mighty, senior vice president for health affairs at Howard University – one of the few historically Black colleges and universities in the U.S. with a medical school. U.S. News & World Report caught up with Mighty – an OB-GYN with extensive experience in medical higher education – to discuss the current state of efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion within health care, as well as the direction those efforts need to go. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

5 Questions With Dr. Hugh Mighty on Diversity and Health Care | Healthiest Communities Health News

Michael Robinson Chavez|The Washington Post|Getty Images

Dr. Hugh Mighty receives a coronavirus vaccine at Howard University Hospital in 2020 in Washington, D.C.

What would you say is the greatest challenge in the effort to increase diversity in health care?

Mighty: The challenge is twofold. The first is the corporate/professional challenge. When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, we’re talking about it at the corporate level – how we can deliver policies or processes to be more inclusive by having leadership within these corporate structures be more aware and involved in life experiences.

The second challenge is in the community. What does DEI mean for someone living in poverty or in an underserved community?

So a lot of the conversations we’re having around DEI right now are about what corporations can do, and then I think we have to look at what communities can contribute and learn more about what they need and how we can contribute to that. Then we can refine the structures, processes and people to serve.

Has there been a loss of momentum in health care’s focus on improving diversity, equity and inclusion over the past couple of years?

Mighty: People have been doing DEI forever, but we’ve been doing it quietly. But then we gave it a name and we elevated its presence, and then it became a threat.

So yes, there has been pushback on DEI and there continues to be pushback. Companies have pulled back and there has been movement – certainly within the last two years – to roll back the concept of DEI. But that doesn’t happen if the largest companies in this country sit down at a table, form a consortium and say they are now all about DEI. Who’s going to be able to stop that?

What is the best approach to increase the number of Black clinicians within the health care workforce?

Mighty: If you’re looking at the pipeline for physicians, then that means building out more opportunity by increasing medical school sizes, increasing the number of medical schools and increasing them where they are more diverse. There have been only four HBCU medical schools in the country, and there are not enough slots that we have to even begin to fill the need.

All the other medical schools need to be involved, and it’s going to take a very intentional effort to do that.

What will it take for health care to move past talking about the need to increase diversity, equity and inclusion to take more actions that yield substantive progress?

Mighty: I don’t know that we need to get past talking about DEI – we simply need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. DEI is just a term, so it’s not about DEI. It’s about continuing to build the pipeline – increasing the opportunities by increasing the slots either through larger medical schools or more medical schools – to then focus on having a diverse medical school group that ultimately will yield more minority physicians.

Why is increasing diversity so important for addressing racial health inequities?

Mighty: It’s important for one simple reason: trust. Black communities trust Black doctors, period. Not that Black doctors are the only ones who can deliver care, but to get someone to turn their lives over to you requires trust.

Part of that trust is being taken care of by physicians who look like you in those communities. That’s just a fact of life.

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