June 21, 2021

Racial Equity Task Force releases initial recommendations

The Racial Equity Taskforce created by Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine last summer has released 62 primary recommendations and 152 sub-recommendations around eight themes.

During the summer of 2020, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, like the rest of the country, experienced a global pandemic that exposed harsh realities of health inequities, civil unrest, and difficult truths about racial violence. During the midst of this, leadership at VUMC and VUSM strengthened their commitment to dismantling historic injustices and structural racism.

In July 2020, Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of VUSM, announced initial steps the organizations would take toward dismantling racism and battling discrimination. Chief among them was to convene a Racial Equity Task Force (RETF) to deliver recommendations by Dec. 31, 2020.

Co-chairs Mamie Williams, MPH, MSN, FNP-BC, director, Nurse Safety and Well-being, Peety Kaur, MD, VUSM class of 2021 president, and Michael DeBaun, MD, MPH, JC Peterson Professor of Pediatrics, were appointed to lead the Racial Equity Task Force. More than 100 task force and workgroup members were selected — with a focus on minoritized and often silenced voices — including nurses, physicians, scientists, departmental and hospital leaders, representatives from human resources, food services, environmental services and campus police.

“It is worth noting that the volunteer participants on the Racial Equity Task Force were from diverse roles and represented diverse backgrounds and perspectives yet were able to collaboratively design redresses to racial and ethnic injustices at VUMC. The RETF recommendations are a culmination of many hours of collaborative work and, for me, exemplify the best of what is possible when we intentionally labor to improve the work environment and life for all at VUMC,” Williams said.

The Office of Health Equity, led by Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, Senior Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence for VUMC and Senior Associate Dean for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence for VUSM, convened and supported the task force’s work.

“I am incredibly proud of the task force’s rapid response and compelling recommendations, which will help guide our institution towards racial equity,” Wilkins said. “It is very rewarding to be a part of an institution whose leadership acknowledges the historic injustices and structural racism that impact us all and is committed to institutional change.”

The co-chairs submitted final recommendations to VUMC and VUSM executive leadership in December and included 62 primary recommendations and 152 sub-recommendations around these eight themes:

  1. Establish an infrastructure which promotes racial equity and combats structural racism;
  2. Cultivate an environment where everyone feels welcome — a place that is inclusive, respectful and free of racism and discrimination;
  3. Promote health, economic empowerment, and career advancement for employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups;
  4. Recruit, retain, and promote a diverse workforce; proactively remove barriers to hiring, retention and career advancement for marginalized racial/ethnic groups;
  5. Prepare students to understand the social construct of race, racism, and racial equity, and dismantle racism in health care, research and public health;
  6. Recruit and retain more students and trainees from racial and ethnic groups historically excluded and underrepresented in medicine and health professions;
  7. Cultivate a research culture that allows all researchers and staff to thrive, support racial equity, and advances research that addresses racial inequities;
  8. Deliver the highest quality care to all patients, eliminate use of racialized medicine, and foster a climate that welcomes people of all races and ethnicities

“We are thankful for the VUMC community’s faith, particularly the marginalized community, and our community’s willingness to reveal painful moments in their daily work. We can and will do better for our students, our staff, faculty, and our patients,” DeBaun said.

VUMC’s strides toward eliminating racial and ethnic injustices have already begun. Specific actions taken between July 2020 and March 2021 include:

  • The elimination of race-based glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) reporting;
  • Full-day antiracism training for VUMC executive leadership including department chairs and VUMC Board of Directors;
  • Increased VUMC minimum wage to $15/hour;
  • Embedded antiracism training in first-year medical students’ curriculum;
  • The renaming of Dixie Place as Vivien Thomas Way in honor of African American surgical pioneer Vivien Thomas;
  • Revised VUSM Mission Statement to reflect commitment to eliminating racism and promoting equity

“To me, the greatest strength of this task force was how it brought together people from across the Medical Center,” Kaur said. “We had trainees, environmental services employees, cafeteria employees, nurses, physicians, administrators, and more all sitting around a (virtual) table together having discussions about racial equity. Our most important and intentional act was seeking out feedback from and highlighting voices of Black employees and those in roles that are historically excluded from hospital decision-making processes.”

The task force summary report can be viewed at https://www.vumc.org/healthequity/sites/default/files/3%20Page_Summary%20VUMC%20Racial%20Equity%20Task%20Force%20Report%20FINAL.pdf.

VUSM Mission Statement

The vision of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine is to shape a future in which all persons reach their full health potential.

The core values of VUSM are integrity, inclusion, humility, equity, mutual respect and excellence.

The mission of VUSM is to catalyze the advancement of impactful discovery, servant leadership, and lifelong learning.

In order to carry out this mission, we make these strategic commitments:

  • To nurture the growth of clinicians, scientists, and educators who will serve and lead their local, national and global communities.
  • To create, implement, and disseminate new knowledge that expands understanding of health, disease and health care systems.
  • To teach, learn, and provide compassionate, personalized caring of the highest quality for every patient who seeks our service and to strive to achieve health equity in the populations we serve.
  • To embrace a culture of lifelong learning, critical thinking, and innovation so that we will continuously improve in all we do.
  • To build a diverse community of faculty, staff, and students that expands the richness of our learning environment and enhances excellence in all of our endeavors.
  • To cultivate a caring atmosphere and workforce that seeks to eliminate structural racism, promote justice, and establish equity in all endeavors.