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Mixing It Up
A bold initiative fosters diversity across Johns Hopkins Medicine

From left, Arden Bongco, Wanda Smith, Willie Ferrer and Rhonda Cole are addressing multiethnic issues in Pathology’s Core Lab. With diversity at the fore, efforts like these should catch on.
For Willie Ferrer, supervising more than 40 medical technologists and technicians overnight in the Department of Pathology’s Core Lab demands a touch of diplomacy. The lab’s rich mix of backgrounds—African-American, Filipino, Nigerian, Chinese, Indian and Hispanic among them—means that dilemmas can arise.

Is it OK to speak your native language in the lab? To look someone directly in the eye? To ask someone, when English is your second language, to repeat those complicated directions?

“Conflict comes when you don’t know others’ culture or traditions,” says Ferrer, a native of the Philippines who has worked at Hopkins Hospital for seven years under a visa.

Ferrer and Arden Bongco, a fellow countryman who supervises day-shift technicians, have taken it upon themselves to foster cultural understanding. With help from assistants Wanda Smith and Rhonda Cole, they’ve organized pot-luck dinners for lab workers to bring dishes from their native lands. Lydia Nelson, another supervisor, set aside days when employees don the garb of their home countries. Expanding on the Core Lab’s activities, Pathology this winter brought in a consultant to train about 80 lead personnel in communication skills and cross-cultural interaction.

Undertakings like these could become increasingly commonplace as Hopkins Medicine embarks on an ambitious initiative to enhance diversity throughout the organization. The JHM Diversity Committee, formed in April and led by George Dover, director of the Children’s Center, and Pamela Paulk, Health System VP for Human Resources, aims for nothing less than changing the culture to include everyone with a contribution to make.

For Hopkins to maintain its leadership position, it must recruit, retain and promote more women, underrepresented minorities and people of otherwise diverse backgrounds. “Today, the talent pool is worldwide, so we have to recruit worldwide talent, whether it’s in Baltimore or Bangladesh, Dundalk or Dubai,” says Dean/CEO Edward Miller.

Hopkins has made strides in recent years. Four years ago, underrepresented minorities made up less than 1 percent of the Department of Medicine’s Osler housestaff, for example. Today, thanks in part to changes in how the department advertises and interviews for positions, nearly 20 percent of Osler residents are minorities.

Yet there is room for improvement. On average, nearly 15 percent of Hopkins medical students are underrepresented minorities, but only 3 percent of the faculty is minority—a number not uncommon among peer institutions. Last year, a survey of School of Medicine faculty found that while 70 percent of nonminority faculty believed they would be at Hopkins in five years, just 40 percent of minority faculty felt that way. Minorities often reported seeing few role models for success and felt that they were left out of Hopkins’ important social networks.

In the Core Lab.

“If you can’t present role models to people,” says Dover, “it’s very hard for them to believe the institution when it says it wants a diverse faculty.”

Hopkins researchers behind the survey recommended better recruitment efforts, networking opportunities, mentoring programs and a retention program that integrates faculty into social networks. Strategies like these could be pursued—some already are—as plans take shape.

A chief goal is to develop a body of healt care workers who are more representative of, and sensitive to, the patient population. Pathology, for one, is already moving in this direction. Recently, for example, the department sent a Spanish-speaking phlebotomist to a lab outreach site in the Bayview community, where the increasingly Latino patient population responded with enthusiasm.

Certainly, such pockets of progress exist throughout the organization, says Dover, and hopefully they will spread. Already, departments have submitted strategic plans for the next budget year, beginning July 1, that outline how they’ll improve diversity.

—Jamie Manfuso with reporting by Mary Ellen Miller



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