Incorporating diversity and inclusion into your osteopathic practice


Advice from student founder of MSUCOM chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA)

The principles of osteopathic medicine embody a commitment to serve and embrace differences of all patients, and as a premier osteopathic medical school, Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) continues to be a leader in upholding these important standards. Promoting diversity is a crucial element of the whole-patient osteopathic approach to health care and ensures that physicians are equipped to interact with all patients in a safe, respectful, culturally nuanced manner.

Rodan Mecano, OMS IV, founder of the MSUCOM chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA), urges other medical students to constantly strive for diversity and inclusion in their practice. During his time as Director of Diversity for MSUCOM APAMSA, Mecano was responsible for highlighting specific issues affecting different Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities. His role addressed health disparities by connecting students with support services, uplifting diverse research and creating a platform for people to discuss these issues and get engaged. The following year, that role was expanded into a national branch to better encompass the many communities the organization represented, and Mecano became the first Diversity Vice President for APAMSA. He currently serves as the Leadership Committee Chair, working to connect APAMSA members with leadership opportunities.

APAMSA is a national, student-run organization founded in 1995 and today has over 4,500 members. With more than 120 chapters across nine regions of the U.S., it is the largest national organization for the AANHPI community. APAMSA serves as a forum for students, alumni and physicians to engage about the issues that affect different identities within the realm of AANHPI.

Mecano knew he wanted to prioritize the AANHPI community and broader diversity efforts in medical school and professional practice. With the support of other students, he saw an opportunity to bring that AANHPI platform to MSUCOM. He believes that student organizations like APAMSA provide an opportunity – a low-barrier entry point for students to immerse themselves in key DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) topics, and offers tips to infuse those matters into their osteopathic practice.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, get involved or take on a responsibility. “It's not about the most qualified person, it's about whoever is going to show up and do the work,” Mecano said. Many students and professionals may be hesitant to pursue DEI efforts or advocacy if they believe they do not have the experience or are not qualified to speak on the topic. However, the person who is willing to learn and be involved is more equipped than someone who already has the skills but is only peripherally involved, he said. Mecano suggests putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation because that's where the most growth is going to happen – for you and for the mission you are pursuing.

Be willing to listen and open to correction. “No one expects you to be an expert in the beginning,” noted Mecano. He encourages students to show up, stay committed and make an effort to actively listen. The fear of saying something wrong is a barrier to many students. While many organizations take pride in teaching diversity principles or cultural sensitivities of the communities they represent, the onus is also placed on others to learn information about those communities. The events put on by APAMSA and similar organizations provide a platform for students to seek that knowledge.

Additionally, consider what diversity may mean to other individuals and communities. One of Mecano’s hesitations while establishing the local APAMSA chapter was that it would be “too pigeon holed” into his view of diversity. He acknowledges that one person cannot speak on the values and needs of all communities; he incorporates the mindset into his osteopathic practice.

Explore and engage with local and national organizations. Check out the many student organizations offered at MSUCOM. Visit their social media pages to see what they are up to and provide suggestions on what you would like to see for events or resources. Attending the events organizations host and exploring the resources offered is the best way to begin your involvement.

“Often, the cost of showing up is small compared to the possible benefit you can get out of it,” Mecano said. “My initial cost to starting the MSUCOM APAMSA chapter was drafting an email.”

He suggests contacting organizations of interest in order to understand what they do, explaining what you would like to accomplish, and potentially finding a role within existing projects. More often than not, recipients are helpful, responsive and eager to connect you with their resources – especially for student-run organizations where everyone is volunteering their time.

At the national level, Mecano suggests searching for online medical student organizations related to the cause or population in which you are interested, such as “Latino medical student groups.” The options are vast and offer diverse focus areas.

Connect with faculty, staff and alumni. MSU has a strong, diverse network of Spartans spanning multiple geographic locations, ethnicities, religions, professional interests and more. Explore MSU’s inclusion resources and events or connect with MSUCOM’s Associate Dean of Diversity & Campus Inclusion Marita Gilbert, PhD, to explore resources at the college.

Many MSU faculty, staff and alumni have opportunities for students to get involved in research, join a committee or find a mentor.

Know that DEI is a lifelong commitment. Diversity efforts do not happen quickly and it is not supposed to be siloed, Mecano said. There is much work to be done structurally, making it crucial to integrate DEI into the entire organization and daily tasks rather than operate as a separate branch.

Oftentimes, efforts are started, but may regress due to new class leadership or students graduating and starting residencies. Mecano recommends keeping students and faculty engaged beyond their time at MSUCOM by inviting them to events as attendees or speakers and providing updates via newsletters and social media.

Osteopathy examines the interplay physical health has with other factors, including socioeconomic determinants of health, mental illness, access to care and more. Integrating DEI into the framework demonstrates the commitment osteopathic physicians have to delivering quality, inclusive and accessible health care services to all populations.

Mecano hopes to see the local APAMSA chapter grow and thrive, and encourages other students to “be intentional and proactive” about holistic, long-term DEI efforts. Continued advocacy can foster a culturally-responsive medical environment that shapes the future of health care.

Visit our website for a roster of student organizations you can participate in at MSUCOM or contact the Office of Student Engagement and Leadership at (517) 355-4608.

Learn more about the college’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.