On Nov. 1, Shirley Delair, MD, will become the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s first associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Dr. Delair’s vision includes initiatives that will help diversify the health care workforce in Nebraska to better reflect the demographics of the population being served, thereby helping to address the state’s gaping health disparities.
“The lack of diversity in the college is not new,” said Dr. Delair, an associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the UNMC Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the Department of Pediatrics. “Health disparities in the state are not new. COVID-19, however, has laid bare the urgency of addressing these issues. The Hispanic/Latinx population represents around 12% of the state population but has disproportionately high number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19,” she said.
Initially, she plans to meet with fellow associate deans, department chairs, students, house staff and faculty leaders, and the UNMC Office of Inclusion, as well as leaders from the community at large. The meetings will allow her to gain a broader perspective of the state of diversity, inclusion and equity across the college of medicine and to appreciate the scope of diversity, equity and inclusion work already in progress, as well as how the community views the college and its activities.
Dr. Delair already had begun working to increase representation in the college. In June 2020, she received funding from the UNMC Diversity Fund Grant for a project aimed at diversifying the workforce at UNMC. More specifically, she plans to improve the recruitment of underrepresented minority students to the college of medicine by leveraging existing pre-health pathways.
“Studies have shown that a strong predictor of diversity in faculty at medical institutions is the diversity of the medical student body,” she said. “We have a talented pool of diverse young people in our state, we need to harness that talent using structured pre-health pathways with targeted recruiting strategies and metrics to evaluate program performance to ensure continued success and longevity.”
Dr. Delair pointed to the Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP), the longest UNMC pre-health pathway pipeline program, which has provided for nearly 20 years a stream of students from rural areas to train at the UNMC College of Medicine. Rural Nebraska has now over 12% Latinx population but the rural students recruited into RHOP do not reflect this demographic.
The diversity fund grant will help devise recruitment strategies in rural high schools to tackle the problem.
Similarly, in metropolitan Omaha, Dr. Delair plans to develop recruitment strategies in urban high schools to attract Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other students of color in order to increase participation in the most recent pre-medical pathway program, the Urban Health Opportunities Program (UHOP).
She doesn’t expect to work alone.
“When you think of the breadth of diversity, equity and inclusion work that needs to be done at the college of medicine, it’s not a one-person task,” she said.
Dr. Delair envisions building a team that will assist her in devising a vision, mission and strategic plan for the new office of diversity, equity and inclusion at the college in order to tackle issues that address the needs of students, residents, fellows, faculty and staff as well as the community served by UNMC.
She said she is ready for her new role. “I understand the challenge, and I’m ready to do some good work.”
She has been a member of the faculty at UNMC since 2010, moving to UNMC after completing her pediatric infectious diseases fellowship at UCLA. She received her MD from Universidad CES in Medellin, Colombia, in 2001 and completed her pediatric residency at Saint Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, in Paterson, New Jersey in 2007. In 2014, she also received a master’s of public health in epidemiology from the UNMC College of Public Health.