The University of Texas Permian Basin is launching a Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Certificate Program in the fall of 2022.
“We are accepting our inaugural cohort at this time,” said Alanna Dennison, Academic Director of the Department of Human Performance, Director of the Athletic Training Program and Coordinator of the Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Certificate Program. “This is a certificate that we have received funding from the Hearst Foundation to support and it is intended to help us address health and wellness disparities not only in the Permian Basin but across the world. national scale. So we look at… race, culture, physique, language, certain medical conditions, really all facets of diversity and health care; how healthcare providers interact with these populations of people,” Dennison said.
She added that it is something that has been called for across the country.
“The Institute of Medicine, in the early 2000s, had published a lot of research and a paper called ‘Crossing the Quality Chasm’…where they really started to address health disparities and the quality related to health and looking at…differences in how providers interacted with patients and how things like implicit biases and stereotypes impacted patient outcomes. 2000 that we know this is a problem, and we are just beginning to address it through diversity and inclusion work in healthcare,” Dennison said.
She added that language barriers, among other things, can impact care.
“We know there’s a huge gap if there’s a provider who doesn’t speak the same language as the patient. We know that the quality of care decreases, even if the provider should provide an appropriate translator; and a family member is not a suitable translator,” Dennison said.
“There are so many facets of diversity management in healthcare that we just haven’t begun to tap into. I think the other challenge we face is that there’s a lack of knowledge, not because people don’t want to know, but people just don’t know, so even the appropriate language to use. The language we use in the LGBTQ community has changed many times over the past few years. So when people don’t know what to say, they don’t say anything at all. …Help people navigate the questions you can ask and maybe how to ask those questions to get better information; consider the social determinants of health as a component of well-being, rather than just looking at a patient’s symptoms on any given day; starting to address the whole person, including all of their facets of diversity, or not, is important,” she added.
She said the cohorts were kept at 50 students.
“Our goal is to … have in that range of 25 to 50. We are looking for health care providers from each component of health care, and then other people who may not be health care providers, but which are related to health care. So maybe they are administrators or other educators within the hospital system, recruiters, people who don’t necessarily provide patient care but still play a role in health care . And then the current students too. We are also looking to recruit students who wish to enter healthcare so that they come in with these foundational skills and knowledge to hopefully help them begin to address some of these issues in their practice,” Dennison said. .
She said the certificate is designed to last for one year.
“It’s a three-semester program and each semester has two eight-week courses,” Dennison added.
You do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to participate in the program.
“…This is open to anyone interested in the healthcare field. We have a separate application process for this so they don’t have to go through the UT system application. We also provide continuing education for a variety of health professions for people to follow this program as well,” she said.
Rhonda Lewallen, who handles marketing and recruitment for the College of Health Sciences and Human Performance, said many professions need to complete continuing education units each year, which will also help them.
Dennison said she thinks there are some very good principles in the program.
“The last course in the sequence is a course on quality improvement and diversity, equity and inclusion. (It) is really geared towards meeting specific needs whenever you’re at that stage. The person teaching and developing this class is a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) consultant who has worked as a healthcare administrator and has worked with huge hospital systems for several years. And so the focus is really on identifying the issues that you see in your own system, whether it’s in your school, in your hospital, in your doctor’s office, whatever it is, and then on the identifying a quality improvement plan and following that plan for eight weeks to make changes,” Dennison said.
“We’re not just trying to get the information to people, we want them to apply it and integrate it. It’s designed largely to be a hands-on type program, even though it’s online so you take what you learn in these courses, and apply, and do, and try to make changes in your own practice so that will hopefully spill over into the larger healthcare landscape,” Dennison added.
DEI can also have a dwelling added to make it DEIA. Diversity, equity, inclusion and accommodation.
Teachers have been hired for the program.
“That’s been the interesting part is every time you have these conversations something else new comes out. This space is changing so fast that I hope it’s an opportunity for people to be at least comfortable enough with the material that they are ready to get out and get in because it can be an intimidating space,” Dennison said.
She added that she thinks the program will stay.
“I think we’re trying to…create action in this area. I have attended countless seminars, conferences and presentations on diversity, equity and inclusion. The common feeling when you leave is that it was great information, but now I don’t know what to do with it. It will be an action-creating program, so the assignments will be constructed for you to apply what you learn and incorporate it into your work. For people, again, to develop that level of comfort in talking about those things and being engaged in that space,” Dennison said.
What got the ball rolling for Dennison on the program was a conference she attended, where attendees passed a privilege assessment.
“It was about looking at everything from your race to your gender, from your job to your role…and identifying areas where you had privilege. The max score on that quiz was 17…and I got a 17 out of 17. And they just leave it, so they give us this topic and they give you this quiz and they’re like, well, there you go. Now you recognized your privilege and that was it. I had one of the highest scores in this group of people. The whole trip back, it bothered me. I felt like the worst human being in the world because I’m this privileged (person) sitting in my white castle on top of the hill and I didn’t know what to do with it. They made us recognize it and they brought it to light, but then we let it go. I think it happens a lot that we talk about it, but we never talk about the practices that we need to change to be able to fix it,” Dennison said.
She was then able to take a few Hispanic Service Establishment courses that shed some light on some action items, such as how you write your program.
“There were little things and once I started being able to get some traction on those things I was like it made sense. So when we looked at developing this program, we originally focused it on trying to meet the needs of this region, so we looked more at Hispanic healthcare. When we started researching this, we broadened our horizons on this and opened it up to all facets of diversity, because I think our region in particular needs some education in the Hispanic area. But these things translate into all areas of diversity. So I just had to wake up a bit and get uncomfortable,” Dennison added.
She credits Donna Beuk, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance Sciences at the University of Texas Permian Basin, for pointing her towards a larger grant than she initially found.
“… Everyone across the university has been very receptive to it. And across health care, we reached out to education officials and hospital systems. We contacted all kinds of health care education teachers. It’s been very well received so far,” Dennison said.
Dennison said the faculty who will be teaching in the program is a “really exciting bunch.”
“We had the largest pool of faculty applications at the university. We had hundreds of candidates willing to teach in this program. And by the hundreds, I mean like 570, so we had a ton of very, very skilled people, and they’re from a variety of health professions…” Dennison said.