The First National Healthcare Diversity Conference: 15 Years in the Making

The First National Healthcare Diversity Conference: 15 Years in the Making
Marketing Director

For 15 years, the National Diversity Council (NDC) has been a resource and an advocate for the value of diversity and inclusion (D&I). NDC’s efforts include its annual diversity and leadership conference, but this year, the healthcare industry will also receive its very own diversity conference focusing on the issues unique to healthcare organizations. The National Healthcare Diversity Conference will be held at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas on July 24, 2019 and promises to be an enlightening event for healthcare leaders. At PreCheck, we are excited to support this cause as one of the sponsors.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with some of the brilliant minds behind the event: Angeles Valenciano, CEO at NDC, and Dr. Larry Perkins, Associate Vice President, HR Talent and Diversity Organizations at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Find out more about the inaugural National Healthcare Diversity Conference in their interview below.

What does the conference theme “Diversity Transcending: Many Faces in the Mission of Inclusion” mean to you? 

Angeles: The demographics in our country have significantly changed in the last decade and we feel it will continue to move in this direction. Today, more than ever before, it is critical that healthcare organizations recognize that the population they serve has permanently and significantly grown in its diversity. The idea was to find a theme that would speak to the importance of all individuals with different backgrounds (i.e., ethnic, religious, gender) to become the face of the new healthcare movement in the journey of being more inclusive.

Dr. Perkins: Our workforce is exactly what you have described. At MD Anderson, we find ourselves being very global in our inclusion strategy. People in our institution speak 54 languages on any given day. Both our patients and employees come from all over the world. We almost feel like we are the ‘United Nations of Healthcare.’ It’s important for us to be part of the national diversity agenda and to model the inclusion strategies presented for the world. 

Why is there a need for a healthcare-focused diversity conference? 

Angeles: There are very specific opportunities in the healthcare industry that in our mind warranted a separate and more laser-focused approach to the concept of diversity and inclusion (D&I). It was imperative to bring this awareness in a way that was not just presented and understood, but shared through the best practices of top healthcare institutions that are coming to this conference from all over the country. That’s why we thought it was important to have a separate conference that spoke specifically to healthcare. 

Dr. Perkins: As an institution in the healthcare space, having a laser focus on the issues that impact Americans, Texans, and other folks in the world around health disparities is an important topic for any healthcare organization. If you talk to any healthcare leader today, we are all dealing with how to navigate between taking care of the insured as well as providing care for the uninsured and the people who are socioeconomically challenged. How do we do that in a space where everybody doesn’t have the same opportunities to get great care? 

How is MD Anderson Cancer Center the perfect venue for the first Healthcare Diversity Conference?

Dr. Perkins: If you trace the legacy of the 15 years of the National Diversity Leadership Conference, it would trace back to Dr. Harry Gibbs, MD Anderson’s previous Chief Diversity Officer. Our partnership has been embedded with NDC’s vision and mission. Throughout that time, Dr. Gibbs had shared the vision of doing the national healthcare diversity conference with Angeles. Through that inspiration, we landed where we are today with hosting the first annual conference.

Angeles: MD Anderson has been a trailblazer in the concept of D&I. For more than 15 years, we have been partners in the forefront of this journey. MD Anderson is the reason why we will have our first national healthcare conference. 

Dr. Perkins: When Angeles proposed the idea, we quickly jumped on the effort to lead that initiative and that lead me to PreCheck because I work very closely with their leadership team on several things that matter with employing people. What better way to partner with PreCheck than to do it on something so powerful?

Are there any speakers from the healthcare conference you are especially looking forward to hearing from?

Angeles: We have such a wonderful lineup of nationally recognized speakers from across the country joining us for this conference. They are respected scholars and leaders who have truly impacted the work of diversity not only within their institution but also among the community. I am personally very excited to hear from Dr. Pisters with MD Anderson. This will be the first opportunity I have to hear his keynote. But there are so many others that also come in from different backgrounds and experiences that touch the different facets and dimensions of healthcare.

Dr. Perkins: We have speakers that are experts in health disparities, speakers who have spent most of their career around inclusion strategies in healthcare, and speakers who are experts around the talent acquisition space in healthcare. We are going to have expert panels so attendees can hear from more than one speaker at a time. 

What are the implications of diversity for achieving population health outcomes?

Dr. Perkins: For population health, you have to look at Houston and Texas as a whole. We are one of the four to five communities in the United States that are now a minority majority. As a result, if we know that underrepresented groups are the ones who are not getting the highest level of healthcare, then population science would suggest we need to take a look at what is happening in those populations and how to approach those populations to find more economical ways to support their healthcare needs.

Angeles: Our goal is to reduce the difference or disparities in these health outcomes among the different subgroups in the population overall. Those groups include ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and geography. But there are also so many other subgroups besides these that are associated with the population health disparities. Our goal is to in some way, with dialogue and action, help eliminate and move beyond these differences and disparities that primarily impact much of the population of color in the country.

What are the biggest diversity-related challenges affecting the healthcare industry today?

Dr. Perkins: It is providing meaningful opportunities for wellness health. We are not doing well in the preventive space because those underrepresented groups aren’t getting their annual physicals or their annual checkups. How do we educate those communities better and how do we put resources to educate and build trust within the system so that they can get to an annual review or annual checkup?

One of the common objectives across all industries, but especially in healthcare, is innovation. How do you see diversity being part of this equation for the future of the industry?

Angeles: I often think and talk about the healthcare industry as a sleeping giant that has awoken to the understanding of cultural diversity. Healthcare organizations who fail to incorporate cultural diversity into their own organizational culture are also failing to provide the patient with the comprehensive quality of care centered around that particular patient. We also need to think about the innovation that comes through the diversity of ideas, thoughts, people, and experiences that we bring into the workplace in healthcare. Although it should not be primarily viewed as a business initiative, it can be helpful to think of diversity in terms of weighing how important it is to have a diverse workforce. 

Dr. Perkins: In the spirit of innovation, if you think about it in simple terms: Technology is a way of life today and it’s only moving forward. How is it that we could have artificial intelligence and all these high tech machines that we could put in play and not mobilize those resources in a community that has a need? How do we mobilize technology to help these underrepresented and underserved groups? Most of the institutions in Houston, for example, have mobile vans for providing care. How powerful would it be that through these healthcare conferences, that we got people to mobilize and put all those assets in one community on the same day and take care of many people? That’s what innovation can do. 

What should anyone considering to attend the healthcare diversity conference know about it?

Angeles: Future healthcare professionals will want to be there because they will be tasked with caring for many patients whose backgrounds will be in most cases very different from their own. It is becoming more critical that providers and healthcare organizations have a firm understanding of different systems of beliefs, cultural biases, ethnic origin, and even family structures. All of these things are such important cultural determining factors that influence the way patients are treated and how they experience their illnesses. Anybody who wants to understand what the future will look like in terms of healthcare, excellence, and competency, should be there.

Dr. Perkins: I think it’s an opportunity to gather a lot of brilliant minds in one space at one time to gain enlightenment from each other. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I’ve learned so much from the annual conference this year in that one day that I could be doing different. It’s that opportunity to have all that intellectual capital in one space and share. The other thing you gain from it is the relationships that you gain in those one-day conferences with all of these leaders and subject matter experts in the industry. It’s just such a powerful opportunity. 

The National Diversity Conference offers the DiversityFIRST Certification. Can you expand upon the program and its relevance for the healthcare industry?

Angeles: For those individuals who do not have a background in diversity, we will have information about the DiversityFIRST certification program which prepares professionals to be able to create and implement highly successful D&I strategies for organizational excellence and the competitive advantage of their organization. The target audience for this program is people who are interested in learning about and focusing their work in the D&I space.

Dr. Perkins: MD Anderson has taken it one step further. Our key players get certified under the program, and they’ve come back and built our own diversity champion program. We are transferring that intellectual capital and recently had our second class graduate of 42 employees who are now crowned diversity champions because they have been to a formal structured training program. They go back to their department and they navigate on the ground some of these issues that we are speaking around these 54 languages. For example, at MD Anderson, they are able to say, ‘When I was in training, I learned this about this culture, and this is what we really should do to make the family feel comfortable.’ And that’s the beauty of passing on that intellectual capital. 

What do you foresee to be the most critical Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives for the healthcare industry in 2020 and beyond?

Dr. Perkins: Not just in healthcare, but across the national space, we are all working to still drive equality across gender and race at the highest level of the organizations. Much like many fortune 500 companies, healthcare is a space where leadership at the top does not reflect the representation of the communities we support. We have work to do in ensuring that everybody can compete at any level of the institution in healthcare from the C-suite all the way down. That’s one opportunity that we have to continue to be vigilant on in that space. Every chance that I get to speak about it, I talk about leaders being intentional and deliberate about that.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about diversity or the healthcare diversity conference?

Dr. Perkins: I know PreCheck has a great healthcare client base. As a sponsor, it will be a welcoming sight to see folks from some of the large healthcare systems that you represent at the conference.

Angeles: I would just like to say how much we are grateful for MD Anderson hosting this inaugural national diversity conference and to PreCheck for their support as a title sponsor. We are looking forward to a wonderful conference. Any and all are welcome to attend and we are hoping that it will be a sellout.

To learn more and register for the National Healthcare Conference, click here.