Dean's Update 2022-06

June 20, 2022

During the month of June, when we celebrate Pride Month and Juneteenth in the United States, I’d like to take a moment to talk about inclusivity in healthcare and how the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) and the doctors who graduate from the college serve our communities.

The college, as well as osteopathic medicine as a whole, has long focused on serving communities where healthcare may be scarce, both in urban and rural areas.

This is a great start, but it is not the end of the story. As we strive to make improvements to ensure we are serving constituents from all walks of life, race, ethnicity, religions, sexual identity and gender, cities, towns, neighborhoods and farms, there is always more work to do to ensure all people receive the cutting-edge healthcare they need and deserve. To that end, the college works tirelessly to engage future doctors who come from all areas and from a diversity of backgrounds.

As we have benefited in the past, together these future doctors will bring with them knowledge that is beyond their medical training and help our profession do better to connect to the world in which we live and call home. They will bring a passion for people and an understanding of life that will help the D.O. medical profession to better serve all patients.

It begins with treating all people with respect and dignity, a long-standing tenet of the osteopathic philosophy. The work of the college is teaching future D.O.s to be understanding and to be the voice for their patient and to help them learn to be intentional and understand they are here for others. Indeed, this is what we all refer to as “the art of medicine,” something we as a college emphasize throughout our curriculum and is the “special sauce” that truly distinguishes the osteopathic profession.

The importance of inclusion as part of osteopathic healthcare cannot be stressed enough, and the work of our college continues to keep that in focus as we move forward, with the guidance of Marita Gilbert, Ph.D., associate dean of Diversity and Campus Inclusion, and Chinyere Tobias, M.A., academic and career advisor and chair of the MSUCOM Diversity Committee, who offer insight about what inclusive healthcare looks like.

“Inclusive healthcare practices create an environment in which patients trust their care providers,” explained Tobias. “MSUCOM is training the next generation of physicians who will have the abilities to listen, hear their patients’ needs and concerns and, see their patients as ‘whole persons,’ not just as diseases.  

“It means putting aside preconceived notions or biases about a patient’s presentations or motivations.”

Gilbert shares an example of what this means with a story of her “adopted” grandmother who at 91 needed to see a doctor. Gilbert’s grandmother was eager to find a doctor with a different approach to care than had previously been her experience. She was seeking a physician who practiced “that medicine your college does.” Her new physician took the time to talk with Gilbert’s grandmother to find out from her what was happening and listened to her, really listened. It made all the difference. This is the power of osteopathic medicine.

That type of care and advocacy is what the college strives to teach students, as well as practice at MSU.

“One thing I like about osteopathic medicine is the delivery of community-based medicine where there is the most need,” Gilbert said.

The evidence of this is an average of two-thirds of MSUCOM students stay in Michigan to work as a D.O. and serve Michigan communities following graduation and residency.

“We’re growing the next generation of physicians, physician researchers and PAs that will be here and make an impact in this state,” Gilbert said. “Medical education is really about inclusive excellence embedded in all things we do. It starts with the vision as a college, and then daily practice.”

That work translates into speaking up for a patient who might not have the language or voice to speak for themselves, Tobias said, adding, “It means advocating for ‘patient-centered’ practices and policies in the hospitals and communities where MSUCOM graduates practice.”

Inclusive healthcare practices also mean taking the time with patients to educate them to better advocate for themselves, Tobias explained. These partnerships better serve people’s health needs and build strong relationships between physicians and their patients, which builds trust. Doctors don’t always have the answer, but if their patients trust them, they will also extend grace to a physician who may need to follow up with that patient after researching a specific question or concern.

Like Gilbert’s grandmother, they feel heard.

More information is available about Michigan State University events held this month celebrating Juneteenth and Pride Month.

Andy Amalfitano