Q. What are your first steps in establishing the new Office of Health Equity?
A. These first few months we’re trying to better understand the landscape of who within the Medical Center is conducting health equity research. Some people are doing work they may not necessarily label as health equity, but that’s really what they’re focusing on. We’re also identifying people and programs I wasn’t previously aware of, such as those well outside of research like Human Resources, where they’re trying to make sure employees are healthy. The medical students are really passionate about health equity. I get a lot of calls and emails from people offering to help and wanting to be involved. So that’s been fantastic to see.
Q; How is VUMC positioned to serve as a national leader in expanding health equity initiatives?
A: We’re really in a unique position because our efforts are enterprise-wide. It’s hard to compete with that. At many other institutions, there is no office like this specifically focused on health equity. Diversity and inclusion is more focused on the workforce, and many other institutions do that. Really focusing on the health equity aspect means we’re talking about health outcomes. There’s also strong executive support here. It’s not just an office — there’ll be expectations across the enterprise that we’re working toward health equity.
Q: A common theme of your career has been uniting people and groups who haven’t traditionally worked together. Why?
A: I grew up in a relatively small town where everyone knew everyone else and we really believed everyone was equal. It didn’t matter if you had a third-grade education or college degree, or if you owned the store or worked at the factory — everyone’s voice was important. Everyone contributed something, had a gift. And collectively, we were better. If we are trying to make people healthier, whether that’s through research, education or patient care, then all voices are important. All those voices are not going to be the same, and that’s great. Because if we’re only hearing some of the voices, then the voices we don’t hear are going to be the ones who don’t get to benefit. I’m always asking myself, ‘who is not at the table?’
Q: How do you juggle your many different leadership roles?
A: Mostly I have great people around me. I have an amazing team, in every way, and I try to think of every team member the same way I think about those voices at the table. I want A-plus people who are leaders. Trust is important, and it has to be mutual trust.