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

About Episode 61

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In part two of our series, we dig deeper into conversations with our Black physician leaders, guided by our Black, African and Caribbean Associate Resource Group. Joining the table in today’s episode is Latonya Quann, Clinical Operations Supervisor for Nemours Children’s Health, Orlando, and Jane deHeers, Director of Operations, Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Services, Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware. Latonya asks our physicians what helped them get to where they are today and to share any advice they can give to the next generation of Black leaders. Jane concludes our five-question discussion with what our physicians envision for the future of Black leaders.

Answers revolving around these questions of Black leadership growth and sustainability include the magnification of imposter syndrome in the Black community, leaning on champions in your corner, the importance of sharing experiences across race and hierarchy, and the power of perseverance. 

Dr. Robyn Miller shares her take on the importance of DEI: “I want people to be able to show up as their authentic selves and be accepted for their authentic selves and be able to learn as their authentic selves because that’s who goes in the room with patients, and patients need to see those authentic selves.” 

To hear a more detailed account of our physicians’ experiences, be sure to tune in and listen! 

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:
Latonya Quann, Clinical Operations Supervisor, Nemours Children’s Health, Florida
Jane de Heer, PT, DPT, MBA, CLT, Director of Operations, Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Services, Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware
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 61 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:

As Black History Month comes to a close, we conclude our two-part series created in partnership with the Nemours Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group. They selected and scheduled the guests, created the five-question set to be asked of each leader and conducted the interviews in order to celebrate and raise awareness of the Black physician leader experience of diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare.

The leaders they spoke with 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 & Communication Center; and Dr. Robyn Miller, Adolescent Medicine Specialist.

In part one, each leader had the opportunity to define diversity from their perspective, share personal stories of the impact diversity and inclusion has had on their careers and the challenges and triumphs they have faced as Black physician leaders. It’s insightful listening, and you can hear that episode, number 60, at NemoursWellBeyond.org.

Part four. The fourth of the five-question set across these two episodes is posed by Toya Quann, who serves as clinical operations supervisor for the Nemours Downtown Orlando, Florida clinic and division supervisor of the Medically Complex Clinic with Dr. Robyn Miller, the first leader to respond.

Toya Quann, Nemours Children’s Health:

What has helped you to get where you are, and what advice do you have for aspiring Black leaders navigating their respective fields?

Dr. Robyn Miller, Nemours Children’s Health:

What helped me was support. Support from family and friends, especially early on. Still, to this day, they help a lot with reminding me of who I am. I think that when you’re in medicine and you’re a minority in medicine, in medicine in general, it’s a lot of imposter syndrome that people are plagued with. But when you’re a minority in medicine, I think that’s compounded. And so having my personal cheerleaders to remind me of all my accomplishments and the things that I do that become sort of mundane and just who you are, just walking your path, and for people that know the true you to point out how awesome that is because sometimes it’s not celebrated as much the workplace as it is at home.

Also, the support of co-workers here at work throughout training. And then, once I became an attending, you make connections and friends. And those connections, some of them look like me, and a lot of them don’t. And so having those champions for you that speak your name when you’re not in spaces, that are invaluable. And so all of that is super helpful.

And then also just my family. I come from a family of educators and I resisted education for a long time. When I was little, my mom was an elementary school teacher and I had to… Once I got to be I think a grade under them, I was grading their papers and helping my mom put up the classrooms every summer and take down the classrooms at the end of the year. And I proclaimed that being a teacher was too much work and decided I was going to be a physician.

After going through everything, it was this year that I realized before that being a physician is a teacher. You teach your patients. Being in academic medicine, you teach trainees like medical students and residents that come through. And now that I’m in the residency office as one of the associate program directors, it was pointed out to me that now I’m like the vice principal, which is so funny because my brother’s a principal. My parents were both vice principals. And so, as much as I tried to fight it, I am doing the exact same thing, just in medicine. And so their support and guidance have been crucial to the person that I have become.

Dr. Lonna Gordon, Nemours Children’s Health:

I think one of the things, most importantly, is just community. I always say that I’ve stood on the shoulders of the people who came before me. On February 8th was National Black Women Physicians Day, that happens to be the birthdate of the first Black woman physician in the US, her name was Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. And so when you think about the legacy that she started, I mean by being able to be in medical school in a space where there were only four other women in her class, in a space and at a time when Black people had really only recently acquired even freedom in the United States. And at a point when Blacks were still not considered full citizens with full voting rights.

One, to be able to accomplish that, I recognize that some of the struggles that I face in my day-to-day career are minimal in comparison to that kind of adversity. But also recognizing the boldness that requires. And so I look at her as a great guidepost, but then I also think about just all of the different women that I’ve had along the way who have guided me.

I remember I had a terrible night on call, my first night on call as a resident. It was July 1st. I developed an allergic reaction to the lubricant in my contacts randomly in July, right before starting residency, after moving to a new city. And I woke up that morning and it felt like someone had thrown sand in my eyes. And nurseries do not have bright lights. And the lights in the nursery felt too bright for me, but I was on call. So, there was no way to go to the eye doctor that day. So, it was going to be the next day.

In addition, there were a ton of babies born that night. I had to do NRP resuscitation in the delivery room, which does not usually happen in the Well delivery room. It was a terrible night by anybody’s standards. And I am sure I looked terrible the next morning. And that was actually my first meeting with Dr. Odett Stanley Brown. She was my attending who was rounding on the babies in the nursery that morning. And she looked at me, and she said, “It was a rough night, huh?” Like you do. It wasn’t even like a question. It was like a statement.

And I said, “Oh, it was the worst.” And she looked at me, and she said, “And there will be those nights,” but she said, “There will never be a night again as bad as this night.” And I looked at her, and I was like… I mean, my facial language conveyed that I did not believe that because I did not. And she said to me, she said, “It will never be as bad as tonight because you had the experience of tonight.” She said, “So, the next time that you have a bad night, you’ll have experience and the knowledge that you survived it because you did.”

And that was so positive for me. It was just very uplifting. It really stuck with me. And it’s something that I’ve passed on to other residents when I’ve seen them have a bad night because I do think that we forget that there is benefit to experience. And so that is one of the things that I always pass on.

And so I love the fact that I now have a few residents who also call me mom. And so I really am happy that I have that legacy of just someone who looked out for me, provided me with both professional guidance as well as personal support, and then we’ve managed to work again together at the same institution, and we continue to have a friendship. And that’s my hope with the people that I’ve mentored along the way and that I’ve continued to have in that space. That’s what, I think, that is the piece that gets you to being a leader. I’ve not ever gotten into any position that I was in alone, and I don’t think that that’s true of anyone. And so I’m just very grateful for the people along the way.

Dr. Alfred Atanda, Nemours Children’s Health:

For me personally, I’m the youngest of seven kids. My family are immigrants from Ghana, West Africa, which you may have known. And having six older siblings who all went to college and graduate school and became professionals was very helpful. It was nice to have a lot of role models in my immediate family. I didn’t have any medical doctors or physicians in my family, but there are several PhD doctors. I always tell them that I’m the real doctor of the family.

But no, it was great having that. And I think just on a day-to-day basis, seeing their work ethic, seeing how they navigated their own trials and tribulations really helped and supported me. And without that support, it may have been quite difficult for me to get to where I am.

And what I tell other folks who are on the come up and trying to break into roles of leadership, either within healthcare or outside of healthcare, is really basically, “Don’t give up.” A lot of times along the journey… I spent 15 years after high school training to get this job, and there were many, many times where I felt like I should just try something different, go to law school or business school or something, whatever, because healthcare has its own particular complex challenges that a lot of other professional fields don’t have.

And it’s kind of like when people run a marathon that’s 26 miles, it’s long, and it’s grueling, but the way they do it is one step at a time. If you’re not present and mindful and in the moment and really feeling yourself along your journey, sometimes you can get lost, but always just trying to maintain that focus and keep your eyes on the prize, set goals for yourself, and hopefully, they’re within reach, and then they’re within reason.

Sometimes things don’t always go your way, and you can’t control that. But the things you can control, that are within your grasp, I think you need to focus on those things in terms of your hard work and your grit and resilience.

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

I will say, Black leaders, especially women, can face challenging circumstances around overcoming bias and disadvantage. We have to find ways to harness our own power. Sometimes being non-threatening and sometimes navigate rooms where we might not have the support outright of others.

So, I have three thoughts about this. One is around connections. Two is around preparation. And three is around joy. And I would say we all, for the first one, need to overcome these cross-race, cross-hierarchy connections through mentorship and collective support, whether it’s through our ARGs or finding someone in the workplace that you can really connect with.

The second one is around preparation. Sometimes we all need to make sure we’re striving for excellence and doing that through focused commitment to our own personal and professional development, through trainings, degrees, excellent support, and sometimes being really focused on that can help.

The third is around joy. I think that in so much of what we do, it can be hard, and we want to support that wellness and resilience through joy and celebration. And I hope this month, while we’re celebrating Black History Month, we can uplift that joy collectively and through diversity and hold onto this.

Dr. Cedric Pritchett, Nemours Children’s Health:

What has helped me get here? My worldview and my faith sees “success,” and I put success in quotations because success is more than what we accomplish and achieve but I believe it’s a combination of old-fashioned hard work and divine blessing. And there’s certainly an element of benefit from those who have given to me that also allows me to be where I am today.

There’s a lot of talk about having a growth mindset and seeing life as more than just a destination and a journey. And so when I wrap all those concepts up, I think that’s what has helped me. I can think back, though, to men and women, Black, non-Black, who have been instrumental in encouragement, mentorship, and accountability, and those people have been forces in my life. It takes a village, and I’m a product of a village.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Dr. Cedric Pritchett on what has helped him get to where he is today and what advice he has for aspiring Black leaders. We also heard from doctors Kara Odom-Walker, Alfred Atanda, Lonna Gordon, and Robyn Miller.

Our fifth and final question comes from Jane deHeers, who serves as the Nemours Director of Operations for Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Services. First up to answer this round is Dr. Cedric Pritchett.

Jane deHeers, Nemours Children’s Health:

What do you envision for the future of Black leaders, and what steps do you believe are essential to continue advancing the cause of equality and justice?

Dr. Cedric Pritchett, Nemours Children’s Health:

I think it’s important to remember that respect is earned. We have to resist the temptation to embrace the idea that we are entitled for something, right? A servant mentality approaches it, not that something is due you, but you have something to give and contribute. And I think that grows your space, and it grows your voice, and that grows your appreciation. And ultimately, leaders are leaders because of what they can bring, not because of what they can take.

There’s a quote that I love that was in a devotional reading, and it just kind of hit me between the eyes, and it says, “Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone: kindness in another’s trouble and courage in your own.” And I think when we distill out a lot of what happens, there’s a core humanity that we all experience, and the ability to navigate that with integrity ourselves but to be sympathetic and empathetic for others as they walk through their journey is important, and that is going to be key for our generation and future generations of Black leaders.

I love that quote of Dr. King, “The arc of the moral universe’s long, but it bends towards justice.” And so patience and persistence are an important key of leadership. You can’t force; you have to grow, and that takes humility and a lot of hard work.

Dr. Robyn Miller, Nemours Children’s Health:

One thing is to find your purpose, and so why you do what you do and, what the trajectory is, what you want that to be it helps you prioritize. I said I wanted to be a doctor since, I don’t know, kindergarten, and so didn’t waver too much. And so once I accomplished it, it was a very, very long road. But once it’s accomplished, it’s like then people keep asking me what I want to do. And I was like, “Well, I’ve done it. I wanted to be a doctor. I am a doctor.”

And so after that, it’s still other goals that needs to be placed for you to carve out what you want your career to be. It’s very normal when you first start practicing to say yes to a lot of things and try to figure out what fits, what doesn’t fit, and finding your niche and what you want that to be is crucial in allowing you to hit the ground running and just move forward on that path.

And so for me, once I realized that I was really passionate about medical education and supporting residents so that they had a… Training this hard, but I want people to be able to show up as their authentic selves and be accepted for their authentic selves and be able to learn as their authentic selves because that’s who goes in the room with patients, and patients need to see those authentic selves. And so once I learned that it allowed me to have the goals of joining the residency program. And within the residency program, helping to move forward DEI efforts in that space. And then also in my clinic as well, to help move DEI efforts forward and taking care of the whole patient along with the medicine part that happens.

I think finding your purpose allows you to really put all your efforts into something that feeds you, and it allows you to join other organizations. And so it feels like you’re doing a lot, or it looks like you’re doing a lot, but it’s all still focused and tied into what your purpose is. And so that allows you to not feel so stretched and feel like you’re being pulled in 50 million directions just with work when it’s still life that pulls you in 50 million directions. And so once you get that purpose, I think that allows you to run and be leaders in so many ways.

Sometimes leadership is a title that comes along with it, and other times it’s not a title; it’s just sort of how you move and what you do and the temperature you set in rooms when you show up. And so I think it’s important for people to look at leadership as more than just the titles because the work that you do and how you move, oftentimes, is more important than titles that people give you.

Dr. Alfred Atanda, Nemours Children’s Health:

Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve definitely come a long way. I think a conversation such as this one that happened in 1994 instead of 2024 would be much different. First of all, I was in 10th grade in 1994, so that’s the obvious difference.

But I think the climate of our world outside of healthcare and in politics and current events, and obviously now we have social media, so I do think things are going to improve because there’s a lot more awareness now. There’s a lot more rally cries and a lot more people that are willing to be part of the movement. And I don’t necessarily mean people of color. I mean, everybody is understanding the true benefits of equality and justice and how that not only helps the people that may have been marginalized or disenfranchised,, but it helps our society as a whole.

And I think just keeping up that awareness, keep sharing your experiences. Some people have various thoughts and opinions about social media. Obviously, there’s pluses and minuses, but I think some of the pluses are that you can get immediate awareness and reaction to certain events and people’s thoughts, people’s feelings, and people can consume that information in a way that’s most convenient to them. So, I’m definitely hopeful and optimistic about our future, but it is definitely going to take some work to get there, for sure.

Dr. Lonna Gordon, Nemours Children’s Health:

So, my hope for the future of Black leadership is that we get to a space where we don’t have to think about Black leadership as Black leadership, that we have people who are leaders who represent the diversity that we see in society, and that people recognize and acknowledge all people as being qualified to be leaders.

I would hope that we get to a space where when I walk into a room, no one is surprised that I’m a leader because I’m Black or because I’m a woman, or because I’m young. But that we are like, “Oh, leader. Of course, she’s a leader. She has the attributes of someone who is a leader.” So, that’s my hope for our long-term, where we go.

I think in order to get there, we have to continue, one, to continue to look for people in diverse places. We have to continue to allow people to show up fully to work. We have to continue to support people in leadership and recognize that there’s more than one way to lead. And so there has to be space for diversity in terms of styles because there’s… The number of times that I’ve sat in a meeting where someone said, “Someone does not… I don’t know if this person looks like X, Y, Z.” And I’ve always said, “What does a “X, Y, Z” look like?”

Because what that says it’s one thing to say someone does not have a skill that’s necessary, but it’s something quite different to say, “That person would not be a good fit. That person doesn’t have the culture. That person doesn’t…” Because that actually means that we are not going to get diversity in whatever it is. And so there’s room for growth in every single field and every single aspect of healthcare in terms of who is at the table, right?

So, that’s my hope is that we get to a space where we’re really thinking about skill-based attributes as opposed to… As well as personality attributes, but not just thinking about the persona or the vibe, as the young people like to say, of someone and saying, “Well, they don’t match the vibe, so, therefore, they aren’t qualified.”

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

We have so much to do. There are only four Black Fortune 500 CEOs in our nation. Only 5.7% of US doctors are Black. And the nation’s shortage of Black physicians to me is concerning when we start to see more diversity among our families and our populations, and we know the disproportionate effect that racism has on public health and its collective impact.

I see we have to find every opportunity to elevate equality and justice. And sometimes, that means we’re working on advocacy and policy, something that’s outside of our space, but we’re giving our voice to a letter-writing campaign or sharing our perspective in a team meeting.

Other times, it’s larger and broader efforts like making sure we’re registered to vote and making sure that we’re collectively highlighting the gaps that we see in our communities. I would encourage all of us to consider these opportunities and take full advantage of them. And for us at Nemours, our expertise is valued among policy and advocacy opportunities and leaders that are elected officials. So, please share your thoughts. Please reach out to our federal and state affairs teams because we’re here, pushing every day to uplift equality and justice.

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Dr. Kara Odom-Walker, concluding our conversation featuring Nemours’ Black physician leaders on the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare. Before Dr. Walker, we heard from Doctors Lonna Gordon, Alfred Atanda, Robyn Miller, and Cedric Pritchett.

MUSIC:

Well Beyond Medicine!

Carol Vassar, podcast host/producer:

Thanks to all of our guests today and our guest interviewers from the Nemours Black, African, and Caribbean Heritage Associate Resource Group, Toya Quann and Jane deHeers. And thanks to you for listening.

Let’s continue the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leave us a voicemail on your experiences with DEI in the healthcare workspace by leaving a voicemail on our podcast website, NemoursWellBeyond.org. There, you’ll also find part one of our DEI Black Physician Leaders Podcast and all of our previous podcast episodes. NemoursWellBeyond.org is also where you can subscribe to the podcast and leave a review.

Our stellar production team for this episode includes Che Parker, Cheryl Munn, Susan Masucci, Lauren Teta, Taynika Jones, and TeNeasha Billingsley. Join us next time as we do a deep dive into autism spectrum disorder. I’m Carol Vassar. Until then, remember, we can change children’s health for good Well Beyond Medicine.

MUSIC:

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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