Last month marked two years since George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin during an arrest on a Minneapolis street. After his death, the nation confronted systemic racism and continued to have difficult but necessary conversations about discrimination faced by Americans because of their race, religion, cultural background, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
During this time, activists have brought awareness to the root causes of health inequities and pushed for widespread solutions. Their efforts have shined a light on the differences in access to care for members of certain communities because of unjust social and economic policies.
In this space a year ago, I said conversations about diversity and inclusion will continue, that the more we share, listen and learn, the closer we’ll get to turning important words into meaningful action. This issue revisits what’s being done to make surgery more diverse, equitable and inclusive by profiling the meaningful action of surgical professionals who are leading advocates for change. They’re increasing representation in surgery and promoting welcoming care for patients of all nationalities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, disabilities and cultural backgrounds. The progress they’re making is real.
It’s seen in the example set by Dr. Eugene Alford, the paraplegic surgeon who has the mental and physical fortitude to continue operating after a tragic accident robbed him of the life he knew. He pushes back against being called inspirational, but also realizes he’s a symbol of acceptance for the disabled community and hope for other disabled healthcare professionals who see in him that their physical limitations aren’t limiting.
It’s seen through the work of Dr. Tracey Dechert, a trauma surgeon who launched a nationwide program from her living room that advocates for socially responsible surgery. Members of the organization research the causes of systemic discrepancies in health care, share their findings at national conferences, pump available resources into advocating for positive change and actively participate in community charity events. Dr. Dechert says her group gained traction and grew its numbers by refusing to quit until the momentum of their efforts couldn’t be stopped.
It’s seen in the actions of Dr. Cherise Hamblin, an OB-GYN who decided to become a physician after falling in love with biology as a high school freshman. She benefited from numerous mentors who guided her through college, medical school and residency, and now she’s returning the favor by running an organization dedicated to helping students from underrepresented backgrounds enter the field of medicine. She’s passionate about increasing representation in health care to improve access to care for all patients.
It’s seen in Dr. Andrew Cronyn, the pediatrician who drove from Arizona to Massachusetts to work at a health clinic dedicated to providing welcoming care for trans individuals. He’s focused on meeting the basic health needs of patients who continue to strive for acceptance.
It’s seen in Dr. Barbara C.S. Hamilton, a cardiothoracic surgeon who studied the lack of female surgeons in her specialty and is advocating for more women to pursue a career in surgery and assume positions of leadership in health systems. She’s calling for the support of women in health care through formal mentorship programs and informal alliances.
Conversations are an important first step to identifying opportunities for growth and understanding. But meaningful change is achieved when individuals realize they can leave a lasting impact on their communities and circle of influence by actively participating in whatever way they can instead of looking for solutions from the sideline. OSM