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Health equity champion Arie Nettles retires

Jan. 19, 2024, 2:51 PM

Arie Nettles, PhD, plans to continue using her voice to effect change. (photo by Erin O. Smith)
Arie Nettles, PhD, plans to continue using her voice to effect change. (photo by Erin O. Smith)

Arie Nettles, PhD, professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Retired, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, has never been the silent type.

Even in retirement, which happened in early January, she hopes to use her voice to continue to effect change.

As a psychologist, her entire career has been spent ensuring the well-being of pediatric and adolescent patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism and cleft craniofacial disorders.

Her focus on health equity for her patients and their families led her to think bigger.

“The population of patients we serve is very diverse,” said Nettles. “I wanted to make sure that we appreciated what these patients were bringing to the table. We needed to incorporate their cultures and attributes into how we practiced. It was essential to elevating health care, treatment and research.

“That has always been the ultimate goal — ensuring that everyone is healed.”

And by everyone, she did not limit that to her clinical practice. She was interested in enhancing cultural awareness in the workplace as well.

She developed the model for the Office of Inclusion and Health Equity (OIHE) as part of the Disparities Leadership Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. OIHE was launched as a joint project between Monroe Carell and the Department of Pediatrics and expanded to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to include the education and training of the entire Medical Center enterprise on cultural awareness, unconscious bias, sexual harassment, bystander intervention, and workplace safety and respect.

“Whether you perform transplants or plant flowers, everyone is included in health equity and inclusion,” said Nettles. “It is an ongoing process. This is something we are constantly learning about and incorporating into our clinical practices and our work lives.

“It’s all about being invested in people. It is very intentional. I am thrilled that my flagship programming contributed to the foundational structure used for our entire enterprise.

“Being able to contribute to our teams’ offering the highest quality of care, research, education and teaching is how I would like to be remembered.”

Her work has had a national and global impact as the structure of her OIHE has been duplicated by several children’s hospitals around the country, and she has served as a leader of health equity collaborations in pediatric efforts in the U.S. and Canada.

She has been recognized for her contributions with various honors and awards for her innovative approach to continuing education related to diversity, inclusion and equity as well as her commitment to Tennesseans with disabilities as a children’s advocate.

“We are all included, no one is excluded, and everyone has a responsibility for health equity,” Nettles said.

Now in the early phase of retirement, she admits she still has some articles to publish but wants to devote more time to her family, travel and self-care as well as the community, church projects and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

“I am excited that I will have more flexibility to be available to my family,” said Nettles, who has three adult daughters with her husband, Michael Nettles, endowed full professor and chair for predictive analytics and psychometrics at Morgan State University. “The entire family, which includes my sister, nieces, nephew and a son-in-law, jokes that Nashville is our headquarters, and everyone reports to me,” she said chuckling.

“The opportunities that Monroe Carell has given me have been huge,” she said. “My patients have been such a joy to me. To walk alongside them in their journeys and see their successes has been so rewarding.

“My work in research, in teaching, in mentoring … my work on local, institutional, and national levels to promote health equity and inclusion has been very fulfilling. I’ve been able to develop and enhance a culture. That feels good.”

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