In the spring of 1993, I saw a poster of an African-American boy with his hand resting on his chin. The headline read, “African Americans have the highest risk of preventable diseases and the least number of healthcare executives.” The University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Summer Enrichment Program used the poster as a tool to help attract students of color. I was intrigued and hence began my career in healthcare administration.

A calling for many

Healthcare leadership provides a unique opportunity to serve the community. Many of us feel called to this profession and strive to make a difference in a system that at its best is confusing and costly for individuals. Over the years, I’ve found there are many opportunities to excel in this profession, but it takes courageous leadership. It takes leaders who are willing to speak their truth and open doors for others from diverse backgrounds and underserved communities.

It will take courageous leaders to ensure healthcare leadership reflects the diverse communities we serve.

In 2015, only 11 percent of executive leaders were minorities, down 1 percent from 2013, according to the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity. The shrinking number of minority healthcare leaders begs the question: Do we have the courage to change this reality? I believe we do and must continue to work towards increased diversity in thought, ethnicity and gender. Research confirms diversity in healthcare management contributes to improved quality, equity and safe care for all persons. Yet, progress has been slow.

Needed change

Diversity in healthcare leadership is needed to ensure leaders reflect the people and communities in which they serve. As U.S. demographics shift, we must become more inclusive and collaborative. Minority leaders have unique perspectives and can share their experiences to enhance the health system. We must partner to creatively embrace an ever more diverse future.

I am humbled to serve as President of the National Association of Health Services Executives, which will celebrate its 50th Anniversary this year. NAHSE is committed to promoting the advancement and development of black healthcare leaders and elevating the quality of healthcare services in minority and underserved communities.

NAHSE has influenced numerous minority executives and provides a safe space to enhance professional acumen, mentorship and networking with C-Suite Executives. It is an honor to continue this legacy, to work towards sustainable change in healthcare leadership, to encourage the tough conversations and collaborate with individuals and organizations who believe in our mission. Having the tough conversations requires courageous leadership. It requires us to be confident in our convictions and bold in our actions. It will take courageous leaders to ensure healthcare leadership reflects the diverse communities we serve.