Dean's Update 2020-11

November 18, 2020

Staying true to our osteopathic principles

It is without a doubt that this year will go down as being one we will always remember. With a global pandemic and an unprecedented election that continues to play out, describing it as a stressful year is an understatement.

Now, is an even more important time to remember our osteopathic principles and stay true to them as faculty, staff and students, treating every individual with respect and empathy each day, whether at work or at home.

In this current global and national climate, many important conversations have occurred, including one that centers around racial inequities and the adverse health experiences of marginalized groups. This is a vital conversation that is finally being brought to the forefront.

Our college has always focused on training physicians in both the science and the art of medicine. We strive to educate our students as to how the realities of racism, socio-economic inequities and other social determinants can adversely affect the health of those who seek medical care and guidance from us. Not only have we educated future osteopathic physicians in the diversity of these facts, but also continue to focus on recruiting a diverse group of medical students to further our impact as a medical school and profession on these top priority issues.

To date, we’ve had some successes.

Based on current American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Association of American Medical Colleges numbers from 2014 to 2018:

  • We have been a leader across Michigan medical schools in four-year student retention rates who self-identify as an under-represented in medicine group, or UriM.
  • Our total number of graduates who self-identify as URiM has also led the way.

But, as always, we have much more to do to improve our curriculum, as well as our educational and work climates related to strategic goals. This includes recognizing that diversity, equity and inclusion must be part of each and every conversation within our college to help move us forward in these challenging times.

To meet this challenge and elevate our game, we established a new office dedicated to diversity and inclusion. As a result, we welcomed Dr. Marita Gilbert as our new associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion in July.

In this month’s Dean’s Update, I asked her to share her vision for what diversity and inclusion will mean in our college looking ahead, and the biggest opportunities for change she’s identified thus far.


Inclusive excellence at MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine: Q&A with Dr. Marita Gilbert

Q: What does diversity and inclusion mean within the field of osteopathy?

A: The osteopathic approach is one that thinks about holistic care-- how systems function collectively and interdependently. Osteopathy considers how all of the systems are either workinGilbert-M.jpgg functionally or creating dysfunction.

I urge you to visit the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s website. There, you will find that one of the things that is discussed in terms of medical education is that they are working to prepare future clinicians to work with diverse populations. So really trying to understand who their patients are, to be able to not just retroactively create a plan of action or care when something presents, but also to be preventive.

If I were to extrapolate that to inclusive excellence, this work is not simply about present circumstances in that moment, but the entire ecosystem; the collection of systems and how it is that they're working together, or not, to create the current situation that we find ourselves in.

So, the osteopathic approach resonates in terms of the kind of work I do, and the approach that I want to have as someone who is passionate, has academic and professional experience, who really seeks to do the work of inclusive excellence and the collaborative work of anti-racism at the systems level. It requires reflection upon and attention to structural systemic issues that may have been persisting and have caused some issues that require some intervention and advocacy.

Q: What drew you to do this work at MSU in particular?

A: As an alum of Michigan State University, I understand our values, who we are as a community and the Spartan spirit of excellence.

There are so many strengths that MSU has, which certainly include the College of Osteopathic Medicine. There are also some tremendous opportunities to be forward-looking, to think about things in new ways, to ask the big questions and try to figure out how we, in this moment, approach preparing future SpartanDOs: those who will take over the field of osteopathic medicine in a way that is inclusive, in a way that values who they are, in a way that prepares them to be excellent clinicians and physician-scientists in communities that will serve diverse populations.

Our DOs largely stay in the state of Michigan. That's important. Because we're not just preparing folks that are here for a moment and then leave to serve and improve other communities. Our students study here, learn here and then stay so that they can make impactful change in Michigan communities.

We have a 99% match rate, which isn’t merely an anomaly. It means we're doing the work to create doctors who want to be excellent, which is important even as we are grappling with questions around inequity, systemic health disparities, and who has traditionally been given access to opportunities to even become DOs.

Being a part of this community was important to me. And it was an opportunity to come back to a place that I loved, that had been a foundation for me academically and professionally, and that had given me much. Perhaps most significantly it is an opportunity to pay forward.

Q: How would you describe your overall vision for the college?

A: My vision is simple: to embed the values of diversity, equity and inclusion into all that we do in the college. So much so that inclusive excellence is not an afterthought, but that we're always asking: What does it mean to do this through the lens of inclusive excellence? Who's not at the table with us? As we're having this conversation, what perspectives are we missing because we don't have full representation in curricular design and implementation, policy making, in our strategic planning, community engagement.

That's the overall vision. While it is simple, it is not easy work. We're building the inclusive excellence muscles so that eventually, we don't even feel a sense of exertion when we go about the work.

Q: What will bringing that vision to life look like?

A: It will look like interdependent offices adopting that vision and prioritizing inclusive excellence in its daily operations. It looks like partnerships to reimagine our curriculum so that we're really working to implement inclusive pedagogies across the college. It requires working with our admissions and student life teams in terms of thinking about our recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented backgrounds.

We need to look more like the demographics of the state of Michigan in terms of our faculty, our academic and support staff, and our administrators. What that means is we've got to have this time to do some real reflection and implementation of forward-looking hiring practices so that we can attract folks and then retain them.

Q: What are some of the biggest opportunities you see for change in the college?

A: I think it's just important that we are always willing to acknowledge that things may not have been perfect in this field, or in any field. At this moment, we're having a national reckoning with the ways in which we have educated folks, the ways in which we've established communities where not everyone could thrive, the ways in which we’ve not thought enough about health care and wellness, and who has access to it.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be in this moment. What I am saying is that we now have the opportunity to think about who we want to be, to reimagine the kinds of communities we want to establish, really advocating and putting in place systems, policies and circumstances where people can actually have access to wellness. We can shift the mindset from seeking treatment or care only in the event of an ailment to asking, ‘What does it mean to be holistically well?’ and ‘What does it mean to create that in communities?’

We have the opportunity to be at the helm of transformative change, to work collaboratively to usher in new theoretical and practical frameworks for inclusive excellence that certainly affect our colleges, but I think will also resonate across the entire MSU campus. 


Andy Amalfitano                                   

Marita Gilbert
Associate Dean of Diversity and Campus Inclusion