We recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Lynn Gray about diversity in medicine, mentorship, and the lack of minorities in the healthcare profession. Dr. Gray works as an emergency medicine physician in St. Joseph, Michigan. He was dedicated his career to providing quality healthcare, while promoting cultural competence and diversity in healthcare. Dr. Gray was the first person in his family to attend medical school. He is happily married and is the father of three adult children – a transplant surgeon, a health-law attorney and a dentist.
Dr. Gray: Here in the US in most communities we serve a diverse population, not just in terms of race/ethnicity, but also in terms of educational level, socio-economic level, religion, sexuality and even such things as physical handicaps. This diversity can lead to disparities and inequities in health care and health care delivery for minority populations. Issues such as access to health care facilities, safe neighborhoods, access to health-promoting diets are a few of the factors that lead to health inequities. In addition to having adequate numbers of providers to serve these populations, the providers must be culturally competent. Most health providers receive no formal training about the cultures of the patients they serve, especially in minority communities. This lack of knowledge about their patients whether intentional or not further promotes stereotyping and other incompetencies that promote health care delivery disparities. Knowledge about the culture of a patient with hypertension can be almost as important to their treatment as knowledge about anatomy or other “basic sciences” that are taught.
HealthOU: You were recently appointed as the Medical Director for Diversity at Lakeland Healthcare. What does that role entail?
Dr. Gray: As Medical Director, I have two primary roles. First, to help Lakeland in its journey to being a healthcare organization that respects and promotes diversity in its staff and in its approach to patient care. Along with this I (and Lakeland) will promote health equity in our service communities. There are a variety of strategies and tools we will use to work toward these goals, including partnering with other like-minded organizations in the community.
HealthOU: What are some of the specific projects that your office is working on right now?
Dr. Gray: Currently at Lakeland Regional Health System we are preparing to utilize the COA 360, which is a web-based tool developed by Dr Tom Laviest at the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. This tool should give us insight into the level of cultural competence in several key units in our system, and will help guide our efforts in becoming a culturally competent health care provider.
HealthOU: In a recent interview, you reference statistics from the AAMC’s “Missing in Action” that stated that only 6 percent of physicians, 9 percent of nurses and 5 percent of dentists were minorities”, in your opinion what are some of the reasons why these numbers are so low?
Dr. Gray:Unfortunately, the society we live in doesn’t value the worth of an equitable, diverse healthcare workforce. In reality, in addition to improving the health of minority communities and reducing the disparities, more diversity of providers will reduce costs of healthcare due to preventable problems that arise out of inequities. Also, because of the high cost of medical education, a lot of the brightest students in college are choosing other professions that involve less time in school/training with comparable financial returns.
HealthOU: One of the ways to promote a diverse healthcare workforce is to have good role models and support. As you progressed through your professional career, were there any physician role models who shaped and guided you along the way?
Dr. Gray: There were two physicians at my church who encouraged me, but did not serve a formal mentoring role. While in residency, I was blessed to have a church member ,who was a surgeon at one of the hospitals I trained at, serve as a mentor. His advice to me about stewardship has been a guiding factor in my life.
HealthOU: What do you think are some of the benefits of having a physician role model as one goes along his / her journey to becoming a medical professional?
Dr. Gray:In addition to being an encouragement, a mentor can help you mature as a physician and as a person. Also, they may be able to help you avoid some of the pitfalls, even advice about what classes to take.
HealthOU: If you could design a program whose goal was to increase diversity in the healthcare profession, what would some of the core elements /features be?
Dr. Gray:First, the healthcare workforce (doctors, nurses, all levels) would be more representative of the numbers of various minority populations in our country. A restructuring of how professional school education is financed, so low-income students would have an equal chance, and students in medical school (and other professional schools) would choose their specialty on non-economic reasons (especially those who consider Primary Care specialties).
HealthOU:Is there any thing that current young professionals can do to increase diversity in healthcare?
Dr. Gray:They should check to see if their school has a diversity program and if it doesn’t they should try to promote the concept. If in post-graduate training or in practice, they should get involved with organized medicine (state or specialty society) to advocate for diversity. (I am currently on the board of my state medical society, my hospital and my specialty society.)
HealthOU:What would you say to a high school student or college freshman with dreams of pursuing medicine. What are some of the essential things they need to do in order to achieve their goal?
Dr. Gray: I would certainly advise them to be as good of a student as they are capable of, but also be involved with extra-curricular activities to be a well-rounded person. They should talk with young physicians or medical students to get advice on what college courses to take (and which ones they may not need to take, but may hurt their GPA).
HealthOU: Dr. Gray, thank you so much for your time. Any closing words you would like to share with our HealthOU audience?
Dr. Gray: With the doctor shortage and the current underrepresentation of minorities in medical school, right now is actually one of the best times to apply since the days of affirmative action. Some schools have a better “track-record” of accepting minority students than others. Do your research and find out which schools are more accepting.