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Diversity in healthcare: Recruiting is one step, but the key is retention

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More systems are stressing the importance of employing more members from minority groups. A group of leaders outlined some ways those efforts can have lasting effects.

Chief information officers discuss the need to improve diversity in health systems during a panel at the ViVE conference in Nashville. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Chief information officers discuss the need to improve diversity in health systems during a panel at the ViVE conference in Nashville. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Hospitals and health systems need to recruit more diverse workforces, but leaders say that’s only part of the challenge.

Success in recruiting candidates from underrepresented groups isn’t the only yardstick, says Andrea Daugherty, interim chief information officer of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas-Austin.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t retain them,” Daugherty said.

Health system executives say it’s critical to develop a more diverse workforce to improve care for all patients. Chief information officers participated in a panel discussion at the ViVE conference about the need to bring more workers from underrepresented groups in health systems’ digital operations.

Health systems need to create an environment where people of all backgrounds can feel welcome and as part of the team. Leaders need to build workplaces where people feel safe.

Cletis Earle, chief information officer at Penn State Health, says “intentionality” is required.

Daugherty and Earle pointed to the development of internship programs which have helped bring more young talent into their organizations.

At Penn State Health, Earle talked about looking for promising applicants beyond Penn State University, including historically Black colleges and universities. He said it’s important to cast a wider net to find those “who bring diverse skills and talent.”

“Nothing better to shake it up a little bit than having new blood,” Earle said.

Leadership must be involved

The members of the ViVE panel stressed the importance of buy-in from top leadership that diversity is a priority.

Hospital boards must be invested in diversity efforts and hold their chief executives accountable for progress, says Zafar Chaudry, chief digital officer & chief information officer at Seattle Children’s. And the CEO of the system must hold managers accountable as well, Chaudry says.

At the same time, Chaudry points out the need for more diversity in the governing boards of hospitals and health systems.

“It’s interesting to see the diversity in the board of directors, which I do believe has to change,” Chaudry said, adding, “Because boards of directors aren’t diverse, they don’t necessarily know what to do.”

Aside from support at the organization’s highest level, hospitals and health systems need to make it clear that abuse or bad behavior aimed at staff members, or coming from staff members, won’t be tolerated.

As Earle asked, “Do you want to have intolerant people taking care of others?”

“Our overall objective is to take care of people,” Earle said.

Penn State Health won’t accept at patient discriminating against healthcare workers. Patients engaging in such behavior are told that isn’t accepted and they’ll be asked to leave.

“Treating people differently is not going to be tolerated,” he said.

Health systems focused on improving care and closing disparities need to look at the data in treatment and outcomes of members of minority groups. Chaudry points to studies that have shown white patients are more likely to get medication than those who are Black.

Chaudry says it’s clear that some in healthcare are uncomfortable with such findings. “The reasons people don’t like looking at the data is because they have to do something about it,” Chaudry says.

Being bold

While healthcare organizations need to recruit and retain more young professionals from minority groups, those individuals can still be discouraged.

Young healthcare professionals should find mentors who can encourage them and guide them in their career, Daugherty stressed.

As she advanced and took on leadership posts, she recalled how she was the first Black woman to hold many of her roles.

“it’s a huge honor but it’s a lot of pressure,” Daugherty said.

Earle encouraged healthcare leaders and workers to look out for each other and to be allies.

“Listen and take action,” Earle said. “You’re here for a reason.”

Young professionals from underrepresented groups must believe in themselves, even as obstacles emerge, Daugherty said.

She recalled having a manager who once told her that she’d never go anywhere. Facing such discouragement, Daugherty said she adopted this mindset: “I’m going to do everything I can to prove I can do it, and do it better than you.”

Healthcare information professionals must be bold, she said.

“Had I not been bold or brave, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” Daugherty said.

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