As the region’s academic medical center, UVM Medical Center plays an important role in creating a sense of community that fully embraces diversity and equity for our patients, families and employees.  In that effort, we have launched a cross-organizational effort to recognize our differences, make all feel welcome, and encourage communication and collaboration.  

Q: How did we start down this road for the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Program?

equity diversity inclusion

Laurie Gunn, VP, Employee, Patient & Family Experience

A: There really wasn’t one moment or epiphany – it was a series of things.

One of the biggest drivers was that our community was changing. As the largest private employer and provider of health care in the state, it was becoming obvious that we needed to change as well. As we started on this journey toward creating a more formal framework, we were not surprised to find a lot of people in our organization and at our partners at the University of Vermont, who were already doing this work both internally and in the community. We have so many passionate and focused colleagues who have been making a difference in health equity, patient experience and our own internal culture in so many ways.

We wanted to support and advance the work already being done by creating an underlying infrastructure, where everyone starts from the same place and you build from there. We knew that we needed to make equity, diversity and inclusion a value and an expectation.

Honestly, when I stepped in to lead this work as the executive sponsor over four years ago, my focus was much more about making sure we had all the right programs in place. I’ve grown so much and have been touched personally by all I’ve learned and experienced in this work.  I have a much deeper appreciation for why it’s so important. I realize that there is a deep human need to be seen, heard and respected for who we are as unique and amazing individuals.   It’s the desire to create a sense of belonging and inclusion that drives me now. I recognize if we succeed in this work it’s much less about our “programs” and much more about the way we are made to feel when we step into this organization every day, whether we provide care or receive it.

Q: How does this work connect with our efforts to provide patient- and family-centered care?

The core concepts of patient- and family-centered care are dignity, information sharing, participation and collaboration. These elements are also the foundation for the work of diversity and inclusion. It’s about understanding someone, their background, their beliefs, their hopes and fears and engaging them fully, so they feel respected and valued. So, for me, EDI is an essential is part of providing patient- and family-centered care. We have to understand ourselves, each other as colleagues, as well as our patients and families.  If we don’t do that work, if we don’t have a culture where each of us feels valued and respected, we can’t be fully inclusive as a community.

Some of this goes back to the platinum rule, which takes the golden rule – “treat others as you would like to be treated” – one step further: treat others as THEY want to be treated.  Because not everyone is the same, and not everyone has the same expectations around what’s important to them and makes them feel cared about and accepted.

Q: Can you give an example of how a focus on diversity and inclusion can improve our culture?

A: Inclusion is a powerful thing. The phrase often heard in patient care is “nothing about me without me.” This can just as easily be applied within our own departments and work areas.   As leaders we need to demonstrate how we value and appreciate the talents of our staff by engaging and trusting them to help create innovative ideas and solutions to enhance patient and family experience, advance quality and operational improvements and refine and influence the cultural experience for all members of this organization.

Regardless of our role, we also need to challenge ourselves to seek out perspectives that may be very different from our own. Being curious and open to those different perspectives not only improves outcomes, but it enhances our relationships. It’s about stepping out of our comfort zone to welcome different ways of thinking and value different voices.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: I want to re-focus on the “why” of this work. This is not something we’re doing because we have to do it. We are doing this because it’s the right thing to do!  We understand that if our staff, clinicians and leaders truly feel a sense of belonging, engagement and pride they will stay with us, love what they do and create the best possible experience for our patients and families.

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