The need to increase diversity in healthcare and surgery is compelling. Diversity brings differing viewpoints, perspectives, creativity and innovation to medicine, all contributing to better outcomes. In our academic institutions, this translates to more culturally appropriate care, enhanced health care quality, patient satisfaction, better outreach, and more effective mentoring for students and residents. Taken together, there are compelling ethical and pragmatic reasons to support greater diversity in the surgical workforce. Unfortunately, however, national representation of female and underrepresented in medicine (URiM) colleagues continues to lag. The health care workforce needs to change so that academic medicine and our surgical workforce reflect the gender, racial/ethnic, and LGBTQ diversity of our society.
In order to increase diversity among faculty and residents, the Department of Surgery and its leadership have engaged in many initiatives. Over the past 15 years in the categories of Departmental Governance & Policy, Recruitment, Mentoring, Support & Sponsoring, and Education, the Department of Surgery, in partnership with the WCM Office of Diversity and Inclusion, seek to promote working and educational environments where all persons can prosper, succeed, and find community.
The Department of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian has a long tradition of surgical excellence and innovation. We believe that in order to do the best for our patients, the doctors caring for them should reflect the same diversity seen in the patient populations we treat.
Departmental Governance & Policy
The Department of Surgery established the position of Diversity Officer in 2012 and Dr. Rache Simmons, Professor of Surgery and Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, was selected for such position. The Diversity Officer works with the Department Chair and Division Chiefs to recruit, retain and promote diversity faculty; to advertise institutional activities in favor of Diversity such as seminars, workshops and conferences; and to coordinate activities across the department. The creation of a Diversity Office has served as an explicit statement of the importance of Diversity to the department at large.
Yearly, the Department of Surgery’s Chief Administrative Officer reviews each faculty member’s compensation. Compensation adjustments are then made aiming to maintain pay-equity.
The strategic plan of the Department of Surgery includes an assessment of recruitment opportunities. Knowledge of upcoming recruitment needs facilitates proactive recruitment of diverse candidates at meetings and conferences, to encourage them to apply for faculty positions early in the process. All positions are advertised through the AAMC Group on Diversity and Inclusion as well as in the website of the Association of Women in Surgery (AWS) and the Society of Black Academic Surgeons (SBAS) to encourage a broad and diverse applicant pool.
When searching for a Division Chief, the search committee includes the Department of Surgery Diversity Officer and adequate diversity faculty representation both in number and in seniority. Given the many potential explicit and implicit biases that exist, members of the committee are asked to review the AAMC Unconscious Bias online video training course in an effort to create a search process free of interview and selection bias.
Support, Sponsoring and Mentoring
The Chair of the Department of Surgery has taken a primary role in mentoring diversity faculty for their promotion and career progression. The Chair and senior leadership perform careful monitoring of progress with honest feedback to help faculty progress. This process aims towards a fair departmental work environment with transparent promotion models in line with established equity criteria. Other mentoring resources include programs run by the Dean’s Office of Faculty Development, the Dean’s Mentoring Academy, the Dean’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Diversity Center of Excellence of the Cornell Center for Health Equity.
The Department of Surgery has established a yearly Diversity lecture which occurs as part of the Dean’s Diversity Week each spring, which focuses on diversity and health equity topics. The Department invites prominent faculty speakers of diverse backgrounds for lectures to offer an opportunity to share professional and personal experiences with faculty, residents and students during the visit. These speakers also serve as a potential pipeline for future recruitments.
We are proud of our progress: over the past 15 years the Department of Surgery went from 37 faculty members, of which only a handful were females with no URiM members, to 99 in 2019, comprising 68 males and 31 females, with 11 URiM faculty. Recently, one of our senior female faculty members, Dr. Shuibing Chen, was conferred tenure and several other women and URiM faculty members are now at the professorial level and in positions of institutional or departmental leadership:
Dr. Rache Simmons, Professor of Surgery, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion
Dr. Lisa Newman, Professor of Surgery, Chief of Breast Surgery; Co-Chief, Breast Oncology Programs for the NYP-WCM Network
Dr. Nitsana Spigland, Professor of Surgery, Chief of Pediatric Surgery
Dr. Mia Talmor, Professor of Surgery in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Dr. Heather Yeo, Associate Professor of Surgery, Chair of the Comparative Effectiveness and Surgical Outcomes Research (CESOR) group of the Department of Surgery
In addition, Dr. Lisa Newman was recently elected to the position of 2nd Vice-President-elect of the ACS, the first African-American woman to be elected to office in the American College of Surgeons (ACS), which represents 88,000 surgeons in the United States and abroad.
Other efforts in our Department include the Diversity Sub-Internship Fellowship Program is a funded program designed to give students with a diverse background the experience of rotating as a surgical intern at Weill Cornell Medicine – Department of Surgery. For more information and application details, click here.
Closing the diversity gap requires continuous vigilance and self-assessment in order to track progress and identify areas in need of improvement. We must all maintain a constant sense of commitment towards the goal of an equitable academic community. No one can succeed alone: we must all take up the challenge to mentor, coach and sponsor female and URiM faculty members to ensure success and achieve equity in our academic institutions. We are eager to continue our efforts.