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Five DEI Questions, Five Black Leaders (Pt. 1 of 2)

About Episode 60

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February is Black History Month and, to celebrate, the Well Beyond Medicine podcast welcomed colleagues from the Nemours Children’s Health Black, African and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group (ARG). They posed questions about diversity, equity and inclusion to Black physician leaders across the Nemours Children’s enterprise, including:

Guests:
Kara Odom Walker, MD, MPH, MSHS, Executive Vice President and Chief Population Health Officer, Nemours Children’s Health
Alfred Atanda, MD, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon, Surgical Director, Nemours Children’s Center for Sports Medicine
Lonna Patrice Gordon, MD, PharmD, Division Chief of Adolescent Medicine, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida
Cedric Von Pritchett, MD, Pediatric Otolaryngologist, Co-Director of Nemours Children’s Ear, Hearing and Communication Center
Robyn Miller, MD, Interim Division Chief of Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric Gynecology, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware

Featured members of the Nemours Children’s Black, African and Caribbean Heritage ARG:
Danielle Davis-Evans, BSN, RN, Ambulatory Nurse, Nemours Children’s Health, Florida
Taynika Jones, B.S., Executive Team Coordinator I, Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware
TeNeasha Billingsley, MSN, CPNP-AC, Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware

Host/Producer: Carol Vassar


EPISODE 60 TRANSCRIPT

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Welcome to Well Beyond Medicine, the Nemours Children’s Health Podcast. Each week, we’ll explore anything and everything related to the 80% of child health impacts that occur outside the doctor’s office. I’m your host, Carol Vassar, and now that you are here, let’s go.

MUSIC:

Let’s go well beyond medicine.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

February is Black History Month. And here at the Well Beyond Medicine podcast, we welcome our colleagues from the Nemours Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group, or ARG, as they ask questions of Black physician leaders from across our enterprise on the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These leaders are Dr. Kara Odom-Walker, executive vice president and chief population officer; Dr. Alfred Atanda, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and surgical director for The Center for Sports Medicine; Dr. Lonna Gordon, division chief of adolescent medicine; Dr. Cedric Pritchett, pediatric otolaryngologist and co-director of the Nemours Ear, Hearing, and Communication Center, and Dr. Robyn Miller, adolescent medicine specialist.

The same five questions were posed to each physician by ARG members, who we’ll meet along the way. These questions elicited various thought-provoking responses, some quite personal regarding the professional barriers they have faced and the triumphs along the way as well. So, in five parts over two episodes, we bring you, in their own words, a Black leadership perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare. Part one, Danielle Davis-Evans is a BSN RN who serves as an ambulatory nurse manager and as a co-lead for the Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group that helped put this podcast together. They created the questions, including this one, answered first by Dr. Kara Odom-Walker.

Danielle Davis-Evans, Nemours Children’s Health:

What is your definition of diversity, and what does that mean to you?

Dr. Kara Odom-Walker, Nemours Children’s Health:

My definition of diversity really differs from the representation of various social, racial, and other identity groups that could be in our workplace, our organization, or our community more broadly. And to me, diversity is so important because it showcases the beauty of those differences without us needing to make excuses for them, justify them. And we often find similarities that we didn’t know we had, but we can also respect each other’s differences. And I think that is what creates the richness that really defines diversity to me.

Dr. Robyn Miller, Nemours Children’s Health:

So it means that our population here in America is reflected in our workplaces. It removes the sense of gatekeeping, for lack of a better word. When you walk in, it’s just as easy or a great chance that you see someone who looks like you no matter where you are that all opportunities are available to everyone.

Dr. Cedric Pritchett, Nemours Children’s Health:

What does it mean? I think diversity is different. When I think of difference, in my young years as a child, I think difference is something I fight, or we fight. If you have different shoes or a different lunch or a different lunchbox, you’re the odd person out, that’s something you fight, somebody doesn’t think like you. And as you get older, you become a bit more tolerant to differences that people have, clothes, color, views. You learn to be a little more accepting. I think the final level really of diversity is embracing it, and that is something that I believe is important and something I’m trying to be more mindful of. It’s not just accepting that folks are seeing things differently than I am or living differently or experiencing differently, but how do I champion that? How am I secure enough where different is embraced?

Dr. Lonna Gordon, Nemours Children’s Health:

There are so many different ways that people are unique. That can be diversity in thought, it can be diversity in ethnicity, it can be a diversity in race, it can be a diversity in language, it can be diversity in religion, ability, status, processing, anything that you can think about. It just is the differences between the way one person identifies or does something in the way that someone else does. I think what’s beautiful about diversity is that it literally gives each of us countless possibilities in terms of how we can appear, how we can approach things, and how we can solve a task. And so it’s just funny how someone will see something just based on the lens of all of the experiences that they’ve had in their life.

Dr. Alfred Atanda, Nemours Children’s Health:

For me personally, diversity really means being surrounded by people who may be different from you, whether it be how you look, how you act, how you dress, your religious preferences. And I think, especially for me going through my journey to become a physician, oftentimes you’re surrounded by people who you don’t necessarily have much in common with in terms of how they look compared to how you look and your upbringing and different life experiences. And I think being in an area that’s diverse kind of ensures that everybody can feel comfortable and find people in their immediate environment that they find relatable, that they can also have connections and bonds with.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Diverse answers to the question, “What is diversity?”, from Nemours Black physician leaders, doctors Alfred Atanda, Lonna Gordon, Cedric Pritchett, Robyn Miller, and at the top, Dr. Kara Odom-Walker. Part two, you might be wondering, “What is an associate resource group, or ARG?” Here at Nemours, they are voluntary, peer-led groups of like-minded individuals who meet to provide support, affiliation, and drive change through education. The Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage ARG is one of seven such groups across Nemours, and it’s co-led by TeNeasha Billingsley. TeNeasha serves as the advanced practice provider for the pain management service within the Department of Anesthesia. Here she is with question two for our Black physician leaders, starting with Dr. Alfred Atanda.

TeNeasha Billingsley, Nemours Children’s Health:

On a personal level, what impact has diversity and inclusion had on you?

Dr. Alfred Atanda, Nemours Children’s Health:

The impact that it has on me is profound because the landscape of the healthcare ecosystem that I’m a part of now is much different than when I was training back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. I did my residency out at the University of Chicago in the Midwest in the early 2000s. And I think in that region of the country at that time, things were a bit more homogenous, let’s say, in healthcare. And as we’ve progressed over the past couple of decades and being here in the Northeast and on the East Coast, and being in an environment like Nemours that really prioritizes diversity and inclusion, I think the overall experience has been much better, not just for me, but also my colleagues, and of course, the patients that we take care of.

Dr. Lonna Gordon, Nemours Children’s Health:

What I recognize is that, when I walk into a room, patients make a lot of assumptions about me. Some are based on things they can visibly see. Some are based on things that they can’t see. Some are things that they’ve just assumed based on maybe a title I have or those kinds of things. But what I recognize is that people don’t necessarily know my story. So you may assume that I have a lot in common with you because I’m another Black woman, and I may not have as much in common with you as you thought. People may assume that I have nothing in common with you because I’m a Black woman, and I may actually have more in common with you than you would expect. I think when that became impactful to me in my career was actually in the early part of fellowship when I was training in New York. New York is just a wonderful melting pot of lots of diversity and kind of represents the best, maybe, of diversity in America in a lot of ways.

And so I had the beautiful experience of having co-fellows all three years that I was a fellow who we all had very different racial ethnic backgrounds, that first level diversity that people see. And what I thought was absolutely incredible was how much I had in common with an Indian American woman, a Korean American woman, and myself, and then a Jewish American woman, a Latina woman who was of Mexican ancestry, and how much we had in common. It was as if, although we were raised in completely different corners of the country, it was absolutely amazing how similar our childhoods or upbringings, the experiences that we’d had both positive and negative, and how that had kind of led us to deciding to specialize in adolescent medicine. It was so amazing to see how people who, at surface level, I would think I have very little in common with, how much we had in common, and the fact that we’re still great friends in addition to being colleagues.

Dr. Cedric Pritchett, Nemours Children’s Health:

Some of that I probably can’t measure and feel. I mean, I certainly believe there are opportunities, there are experiences for growth that I’ve been able to enjoy and receive because of the different or additional perspective that I bring to the conversation, to the organization, to the institution. I mean, I think the lens and view we see our world through is important. There are others out there that can resonate with us, and missing that voice is a loss. I certainly feel that it provides me a chance to re-inspect my view regularly when I have a chance to work with or work for those who bring diversity in a myriad of ways, whether it’s language or culture or religion or race or what have you. It gives me a chance to say, “How do I take what is a shared vision and shared value and present that in a way that allows meaning for those who I’m in their presence?”

Dr. Kara Odom-Walker, Nemours Children’s Health:

Personally, diversity and inclusion have a tremendous impact on me. My daily work, the way I approach team members, it seeks an environment that I want to be part of and contribute to that offers affirmation, celebration, appreciation of different approaches, leadership styles, perspectives, and experiences. I certainly also believe that we need to address the challenges that our minority leaders can face in the workplace, and whether we’re countering microaggressions or we’re lifting up each other through microvalidations. This is so important and has been part of my leadership journey personally.

Dr. Robyn Miller, Nemours Children’s Health:

Diversity, equity, and inclusion has just so many levels and so many layers to it. I think it’s something that’s always been a part of me to have that in the forefront of my thought process. I think just being able to become a Black female physician is something that is part of diversity, just existing as a Black female physician. But on the way to becoming one, helping people behind me and looking for guidance for people ahead of me, all of those things have been impactful on me when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In medicine, minorities are definitely a minority still, and it’s hard to see our faces. And so anyone above me who looked like me was an inspiration and being able to try to make sure I’m that for the people who come behind me has always been a goal.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Dr. Robyn Miller on how diversity and inclusion impact her on a personal level. Before that, we heard from Doctors Kara Odom-Walker, Cedric Pritchett, Lonna Gordon, and Alfred Atanda. Part three, our final question for this episode, is posed by Taynika Jones, an executive team coordinator for inclusion, diversity, equity, and alignment, with Dr. Lonna Gordon getting us started by going deep into a personal and painful experience she had in residency.

Taynika Jones, Nemours Children’s Health:

Can you share a pivotal moment in your career and that reflects the challenges and triumphs of being a Black leader?

Dr. Lonna Gordon, Nemours Children’s Health:

One of the things that was really pivotal to me in terms of why I chose to maybe want to be a leader actually happened in residency. It wasn’t the most positive experience. I was early in my first year of residency, definitely in the first half of it. And I was in the step-down unit and there was a kid who the results that came back were not what we had anticipated them being. And so I stopped by to update the family on the new results and, therefore, how that would change the plan in terms of what had happened on rounds that morning. And the grandmother was someone who was very trusted in the family structure because she had a background in healthcare. And she became very upset with the change in plan. And instead of maybe processing that being upset in a, “Wow, this is really scary or this is a change,” or, “This really is disappointing,” she instead chose to attack directly my identity.

It was loud, it was ugly. It drew a lot of attention. It spilled into the hallway. And it really left me very devastated. I mean, I distinctly remember a really kind nurse from the unit just leading me over to the call rooms and just being like, “No one should treat anybody like that. Just sit here. Compose yourself. I’m going to page the attending.” And it really surprised everybody on the team because I think had we anticipated that that would’ve happened, I’m positive my attending would not have sent me alone to relay that information. And so the attending, who was on at that point because I was on call that night, the attending who was on that night was a different attending than the attending we had done rounds with.

And so she came and found me and she just reiterated that that’s not the way that anybody should be treated, and advised me that she would handle interactions with that patient going forward. And the next morning, my attending, who was on, came back in and did not really give that situation the due attention that I realized it should have gotten. He didn’t escalate it to any of my supervisors. He didn’t debrief the situation with me. He didn’t address it with the patient. From that experience, although it was really painful, what I took away was, one, that it’s important to provide safety for people when they’re in difficult situations. I was really grateful that I did have an attending overnight who provided me with safety. I did have a kind nurse who provided me with safety. And then also recognizing that you really have to have formalized processes to discuss and debrief these kinds of events the same way we do with other pieces of healthcare that are unpleasant.

And so I decided that once I was a person who was in leadership, that that would be something that I would do. And so that has led to my passion around diversity worth in medical education, a space of leadership that I’ve occupied in all of the jobs that I’ve had. So I guess the lesser-known thing that I do here at Nemours is that I’m also the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for graduate medical education in Central Florida for our training programs as well. And it’s really meaningful work for me because, in one way, I’ve seen how far we’ve come as an organization, not Nemours as an organization, but healthcare as an organization, in terms of recognizing that diversity is not just something that checks a box, but that diversity is actually integral to the work that we do.

Because as I’ll frequently say to the residents, there is information that you will get that only you can get because a patient is identified with you. There’s information that only the medical assistant can get, that only the nurse can get, that only the social worker can get. And there will be barriers that each of us will not be able to overcome because of who we are. When I walk into a room, I don’t know sometimes, when a patient doesn’t connect with me or doesn’t feel like I’m the expert, what aspect of my identity that they can see or what aspect of the interaction led them to feel that way. And in some ways, it really doesn’t matter what aspect it was that caused that disconnect to happen.

But what is important is that people can feel connection, or lack thereof, and that we acknowledge that and we recognize that we have to have a wide variety of people so that a patient can find somebody to connect to it. So it’s not important to me as the doctor that I am the person who got the piece of information. What’s important to me is that the information was there. And so I really encourage everyone that I train, as well as everyone who’s on my team, to show up as your full self at work. And to me, I think that’s been, to me, what I think is the biggest gift of this additive focus on diversity within healthcare is that I’m hoping that we’re getting to a space where we create safe spaces for people to fully be unapologetically themselves at work because everybody’s identity is needed.

Dr. Alfred Atanda, Nemours Children’s Health:

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of challenges throughout my healthcare career and my journey. I don’t have one particular moment in mind that was challenging, but I think the overarching theme that I always experienced was when people see someone like myself, they don’t automatically assume that I’m the physician. They may assume that I’m a tech of some sort or I’m a transport member moving patients around. And this was always a lot more apparent when I wasn’t wearing my white coat. When I’m walking around wearing a white coat that says, “Dr. Atanda, MD,” on it, it’s a lot different. But sometimes, especially when I was training, I was doing procedures, I was putting casts on. And I didn’t want to get my coat dirty, so I would take it off a lot. And then I have to run here or run there, so I would find myself roaming around the hospital without a white coat. And it was eye-opening for me because I was treated differently,, to be honest with you.

I wouldn’t say necessarily in a very negative way, but people definitely treated me differently when they just saw me wearing scrubs versus when they knew that I was a physician. And when you’re young, and I was in my twenties and all coming up, and that was hard. You don’t learn about that kind of stuff in medical school, and there’s no instruction manual on how to be prepared as to how people may perceive you in your particular role. All I knew was bones and muscles and orthopedics. But I used that as motivation, I used that as something to, I could then be a catalyst to spread the word and provide awareness about different issues facing folks like myself. In terms of the triumphs, one of the things that I’ve always appreciated is a lot of times when I see patients who are African-American, and I walk into the room, and I introduce myself, you automatically see the family and the kids light up because they themselves may assume that I may be a tech or I’m just an assistant or just coming in to check on them.

But when they figure out who I am, their whole demeanor changes. And a lot of times, people go out of their way to say something to me like, “I’m very blessed and honored that, quote, unquote, ‘One of us is in a position of power and leadership.'” And that happens quite frequently. And I think those moments is really what keeps me going and makes me realize that this is a lot bigger than just me taking care of people’s bones and joints and muscles. It’s being a catalyst for hope because there’s going to be a little kid who may be eight, nine, 10 years old who has never seen a doctor of color and may never have thought that that could be an opportunity that could be open to them. And I think it’s very powerful when your presence really can help motivate and inspire people and give them hope for their own futures. And that’s definitely something. Again, it’s not a particular incident, but it’s something that’s been a common theme throughout my career here at Nemours.

Dr. Robyn Miller, Nemours Children’s Health:

I think that one of the triumphs, and so I’ll start with that, throughout medical school, medical school was kind of rough for me. And so once I made it through, and I was in residency, and that was better, but still hard. And so, my goal after finishing all my training was to be able to be the support that I didn’t have when I was going through. I found my way working with the residency program when I first came to Nemours, and then eventually ended up being one of the associate program directors. And that was kind of revealed to me. I didn’t even know that that was a goal of mine, but it sort of just came to fruition. And by being in the room and having discussions, I am able to lend a voice to our community and just other communities that aren’t white and just be a reminder that people show up as they are and can be misinterpreted from different cultures if you’re not part of that culture.

And so just in general, in the residency program and as my job as an adolescent medicine physician, I found myself being able to be that voice and in the room that reminds people that just because someone behaves differently doesn’t mean it’s being interpreted the way that you think it is, like their actions. And even if sometimes I do know what the true interpretation is and I’m there to remind them of that or shed light on that. And other times I don’t know, but I understand that the interpretation is not correct, and leaving space for a whole person to be at work that not everyone always knows the ins and outs of.

Dr. Cedric Pritchett, Nemours Children’s Health:

I think I’d have to divide that and say, “Are there pivotal moments in my career that reflect challenges and triumphs?” Yes. Are there pivotal moments in my career of being a Black leader? Yes. Are they both at the same time? I’d have to really scratch and see, but I think challenges and triumphs are a regular part of practice in my specialty, and they can be as simple as doing a procedure for the first time or accomplishing or making a diagnosis or providing a presentation, or sharing a particular role. Those are all have been a part of my journey.

When I think of my identity as a Black male and a Black leader, some of the most impactful memories that come to mind are when I have a chance to visibly see how someone connects with, is proud of, appreciates me, who looks like me. When I can see a young child who says, boy, that’s a doctor, those are moments. Or a parent who is extremely grateful because they have somebody who looks like them taking care of them. Those are particularly touching experiences when it comes to my personal identity. But outside of that, I mean, there are tons of triumphs and challenges as leaders that happen, and me being Black affects how I interpret that. But those wins and losses would come regardless, and that’s just the nature of being a leader.

Dr. Kara Odom-Walker, Nemours Children’s Health:

I would say, in so many ways, we’ve learned in Black History Month about those who have come before us, and that is what we’re celebrating this month. Advocates, change makers, family members, ancestors have taken such bold steps to create a path for us to have these leadership opportunities today. I would say that is collective work and effort. But for me, the legacy of that advocacy and my own authentic leadership journey came when I was appointed cabinet secretary of health and social services. I was the youngest Black female leader that was leading a state agency for health. I was recognized for this tremendous opportunity to places like the National Academy of Medicine as a member, which is a big deal I’m still humbled by.

But it also meant it was a huge responsibility. And I will tell you, probably the most proud moments came when people who had been working as a state employee for 30 years will come up to me and say, “I see you, I appreciate you, and thank you for being here. Thank you for carving a path and giving voice to so many who wish they could have met you in their younger years.” But I really did not have that chance. That door wasn’t open to me. I would say that, to me, really was a pivotal moment that reminded me not only of the privilege that I’ve been given to hold these leadership roles but that it’s a tremendous responsibility to continue to open doors for those that come after me.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Dr. Kara Odom-Walker concluding the first of two episodes featuring Nemours Black physician leaders on the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Before Dr. Walker, we heard from doctors Cedric Pritchett, Robyn Miller, Alfred Atanda, and Lonna Gordon.

MUSIC:

Well beyond medicine!

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Thanks to all of our guests and our guest interviewers from the Nemours Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group, Danielle Davis-Evans, TeNeasha Billingsley, and Taynika Jones. And thanks to you for listening. We’ll continue this important DEI conversation on our next episode, which you can find on our podcast website, nemourswellbeyond.org. That’s also the place where you can share your thoughts and continue the conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare by leaving us a voicemail. We’d love to share that out in a future episode. Also at nemourswellbeyond.org, subscribe, like, and review the Well Beyond Medicine podcast. Our production team for this episode includes Che Parker, Cheryl Munn, Susan Masucci, Lauren Teta, Taynika Jones, and TeNeasha Billingsley. I’m Carol Vassar. And remember, we can change children’s health for good well beyond medicine.

MUSIC:

Let’s go well beyond medicine.

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Meet Today's Guests

Carol Vassar

Host
Carol Vassar is the award-winning host and producer of the Well Beyond Medicine podcast for Nemours Children’s Health. She is a communications and media professional with over three decades of experience in radio/audio production, public relations, communications, social media, and digital marketing. Audio production, writing, and singing are her passions, and podcasting is a natural extension of her experience and enthusiasm for storytelling.

Robyn Miller, MD, Interim Division Chief of Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric Gynecology, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware

Guest
Dr. Miller is an adolescent medicine specialist who diagnoses and treats patients in the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric Gynecology at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware. She specializes in the care of patients who are in the adolescent period of development and is trained to tackle topics such as reproductive health, irregular periods, mood changes, questions about sexual identity, and more.

Lonna Patrice Gordon, MD, PharmD, Adolescent Medicine, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida

Guest
Dr. Gordon is an adolescent medicine specialist at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida. She not only is a healthcare provider, but an advocate for children. By asking the right questions and listening to her patients, she is able to advocate for their needs at the local, state, and national levels of government.

Cedric Von Pritchett, MD, Otolaryngology, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida

Guest
Dr. Pritchett is a pediatric otolaryngologist, clinical investigator and public health professional with particular interest in pediatric hearing loss. He serves as co-director of the Nemours Children’s Ear, Hearing and Communication Center and medical director of the Cochlear Implant Program. His research pursuits in pediatric otology and hearing health involve health services research and translational research domains.

Kara Odom Walker, MD, MPH, MSHS, Executive Vice President and Chief Population Health Officer, Nemours Children’s Health, Florida

Guest
Dr. Walker is the executive vice president and chief population health officer for Nemours Children's Health. She leads the Nemours National Office of Prevention and Policy as well as enterprise population health strategy, value portfolio, and federal/state policy and advocacy. She focuses on advancement of the overall health and well-being of children, both broadly and among the populations to elevate health outcomes and create health equity.

Alfred Atanda, MD, Orthopedics, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware

Guest
Dr. Atanda is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware. He is also a sports medicine expert; surgical director, Center for Sports Medicine; medical reviewer for KidsHealth.org and American Journal of Sports Medicine; and author of more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles, editorials, reviews and book chapters.

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