I have worked in equity, diversity, and inclusion for many decades, and for much of that time, we focused on increasing diversity in academic settings, especially the medical school faculty space. For me, it has been very important to increase the voices from multiple race/ethnic groups as well as sexual orientation/gender identities in decision-making groups in health sciences to ensure that we are getting the best information and talent available. The research supports this: diverse teams have better outcomes and higher productivity. However, the conversation on diversity has evolved. As we become more advanced in our equity journeys, we realize that people are not one-dimensional.
For example, I identify as both Latinx and male. For me, those two identities present themselves at the same time. It is not as if I could go to a patient’s room and leave my “maleness” outside, any more than I could leave my “Latinxness” outside. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw called this phenomenon “intersectionality.”
Because we all have intersectional identities, we felt it was appropriate to choose “Intersectionality in Health Education and Care” as the theme of this year’s MEDiversity Week celebration. As we discussed in last year’s celebration, here at University of Utah Health Sciences, we celebrate individuals—the “me” part of MEDiversity. Since we also are training learners to treat individuals—it is fitting. The “diversity” part of the name means that we recognize that each of us is unique, and regardless of race/ethnicity/gender etc., we all add to the diverse tapestry of our campus.
In this year’s celebration, we are recognizing the multiple identities that exist simultaneously within all of us. We emphasize that recognition of our individual intersectional identities will help us understand each other, but more importantly, it will help us serve our patients.
Imagine a world where the health care provider (a nurse, a pharmacist, a dentist, a physical therapist, a physician, etc.) recognized more than just the obvious identities of their patient and instead addressed the “whole” patient. I imagine that would end racism, sexism, and health disparities, as we know that racism and sexism play major roles in health disparities. I also imagine it would change what therapies were made available to patients, as a more complete picture of who they are would be clear to the health care professional.
How we perceive the patient in front of us changes how we treat them. And for those of us who do not treat patients, remember that validating the whole person—their intersections—in any interaction will lead to a more enriching, meaningful, and interesting experience. I hope that in some way, this celebration of MEDiversity Week will recognize the intersections and bring us closer together in this most trying time.
Dr. José E. Rodríguez, MD, FAAFP, (he/him) serves as associate vice president (AVP) for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine; and Associate Medical Director at the Redwood Health Center. As AVP, Dr. Rodríguez has worked with teams across health sciences to increase the actions taken in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout University of Utah Health and has taken a strong role in advancing the institutional goals for health equity, diversity, and inclusion through service on various diversity and recruitment committees and presenting at national conferences on U of U Health’s work and his research on diversity initiatives.