I have often wondered how my life would be different if I had gone down another path professionally. A path that included possibly not going to college and most likely staying home managing my father’s restaurant. A place where people from all walks of life gather to eat, drink, and break bread. I have always been fascinated by how social gatherings, in this case a restaurant and bar, invite people with diverse ideologies to lay down their stereotypes and prejudices and sit and drink together. This was everyday life at my father’s restaurant! But after we all go home, after my younger brother and I clean up for the night and close shop, the reality of life sets in. Life is not fair, and there are great barriers that divide us and continue to divide whether we admit them or not. A good friend once asked me what diversity means to me, and my response to her was, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion mean a lot more than sensitivity training modules, mentorship programs, and new policies. It should represent opportunities to create equitable, diverse, and inclusive workspaces where unique perspectives are shared and everyone respects one another’s needs to reach their full potential.” That definition would be perfect in an ideal world, a world where white is white and black is black. But we don’t live in that world. Things are very much gray in our world. Things fall apart – and denying that is the first misstep in the pathway to realizing some modicum of diversity.
“In the practice of anesthesiology, it is not uncommon to encounter individuals from all walks of life with different backgrounds, beliefs, and orientation, be it a coworker, patient, or an ancillary staff. The bigger question is how do we genuinely support groups who feel less seen and how do we create equal opportunities for individuals who don’t look like us or believe the things we believe?”
When you ask the average health care provider/anesthesiologist what diversity means to them, I’m positive their definition embodies similar adjectives as my response to my friend: equity, inclusion, respect, and the continuous quest to make these adjectives commonplace in the workplace. But I wonder if the bigger question is, “Why are these adjectives not commonplace? Why is it hard to feel included in the health care workplace?” Perhaps the answers to these questions are not as straightforward, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. What we do know is people will always feel included and respected when their surroundings are comfortable and familiar and when their leaders exemplify attitudes that are genuinely welcoming and caring. That is what made the restaurant so special – openness and warmth were the calling cards to all who ventured in. I suspect this attitude is a little hard to translate in the health care setting, where the issues go beyond lack of diversity and inclusion. Themes such as workplace stress, malignant residencies, scheduling issues, and production push tend to overshadow the calls for diversity because these issues affect us all. The solidarity needed to drive diversity is often lost. As the saying goes, “We care most about the issues that affect us most.” As sad as it sounds, that is the truth, and to heal and forge a meaningful path ahead, we must reveal and heal these ugly truths.
In the practice of anesthesiology, it is not uncommon to encounter individuals from all walks of life with different backgrounds, beliefs, and orientation, be it a coworker, patient, or an ancillary staff. The bigger question is how do we genuinely support groups who feel less seen and how do we create equal opportunities for individuals who don’t look like us or believe the things we believe? According to Melissa Uribes, Vice President of Talent, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Trimble, an American software, hardware, and service technology company, “Diverse candidates can bring impressive skills, new perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. They just need equal opportunities and a pathway to success” (asamonitor.pub/3VTjHtQ). That pathway begins with honest and intentional steps toward diversity. It calls for leadership to truly invest in diversity, engage in efforts that foster support and mentorship, and genuinely offer opportunities to individuals who otherwise would be passed over. Creating a path for growth and advancement, initiating conversations around career growth, and ensuring a commitment to inclusion, advancement, and professional growth of groups less supported are also vital. Lastly, tracking and communicating opportunities and efforts, alongside regularly evaluating and setting new benchmarks, are the first steps to walking toward a path of diversity.
When we have a diverse anesthesia provider pool, our patients feel better. I can’t recount the number of times I have had a patient elated when they see a face that looks like them, or an individual who speaks their mother tongue, or cheers for the same football team. It might seem trivial, but it matters. Trust matters! Building a bond and a sense of understanding of certain cultural nuances matters. These notions translate all across different racial, cultural, and sexual spectrums. In today’s world, where our patient population continues to be as diverse as they come, it is important that we make strides to make our patients feel confident in the care we provide them. The bottom line is intention and action. When there is true intention, the chasm that seems to divide us merely becomes a bridge. When those intentions are transferred into actionable agendas, we get closer to the goal of a well-functioning, diverse, and equitable anesthesia workforce. There are success stories – we see them in everyday life, from the world of sports to industries that have managed to bridge that gap. One can’t help but remain optimistic that, although there’s a lot of work ahead, hope does indeed spring eternal.
What is the path forward? We can all agree that intentional leadership is required to forge a workplace rich with diversity and inclusion. I pose a further step, one that involves every individual accounting for how their personal degree of mindfulness plays a prominent role in the path forward. When we individually start accounting for how important it is to view issues of diversity just as relevant as scheduling issues or a pay raise, we all start to care more, and we start to affect the overall culture of our workplaces. It is an attitude that involves everyone at all levels of the organization. When we start to see inclusion as pivotal to the well-being of our anesthesia systems, we get closer in that pathway. And the next time we are asked, “How can we affect diversity?” the answer should be, “It starts with me.”
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