Because we live in a multicultural society that is continuously evolving, it would seem logical that diversity in the workplace would be a natural result and reflection of our societal and ideological changes. But it isn’t quite that simple. To some, diversity simply means a variety of different religions, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, ages and other cultural characteristics. To others, it goes much deeper.

The right training

For many healthcare organizations, “cultural competence” is the goal. That is, the understanding and ability to respond appropriately to the unique combination of cultural variables in the patient population. It’s something that Dr. Teshina Wilson, a family physician from the San Francisco area’s East Bay, is very familiar with.

Encouraging a mosaic of cultural perspectives and building bridges across cultural divides is the best way to ensure that all patients and all health care providers feel understood, appreciated and respected.

Dr. Wilson is one of the co-physician leads for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee for Kaiser Permanente in the East Bay. The goal is to provide targeted strategic training for various departments in her organization. “The work,” she says “is all about helping to understand the differences, not just in their patient population, but also in their employee population, and being respectful and mindful of those differences.”

Dr. Wilson also conducts cultural humility trainings to help front desk staff and other frontline care team members to optimize their interactions with patients of all backgrounds. It wasn’t something she had planned to do, but she says, “When you have an opportunity to be able to impact change to someone that is looking up from a different level at you, these jobs come with a certain level of responsibility.”

“For me, what was most surprising was that there was likely a fear of speaking about this subject matter. It can make people uncomfortable. It does make people uncomfortable.” But it is precisely that discomfort that makes her trainings so valuable and so effective.  “It allows for one to have to do a self-assessment and really look at your own upbringing and beliefs.”

A vision for the future

As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, Dr. Wilson also hopes to see a more diverse pool of students entering into her field in the future. “I think that it’s important for each of us to recognize when it is time for us to step up and say I need to reach back and start trying to integrate younger adults into this field.”

At the end of the day, diversity in the healthcare field goes well beyond the hiring process. Encouraging a mosaic of cultural perspectives and building bridges across cultural divides is the best way to ensure that all patients and all health care providers feel understood, appreciated and respected. It’s a simple idea, but a very valuable one.