Certain concepts frequently enter the popular consciousness and become a timely part of the current vocabulary. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is one such concept, as are environmental awareness and the science of climate change.

While the overall effect of these terms becoming more popular and part of the general consciousness is very positive, we also have to watch for these concepts being co-opted and used solely for public relations and sloganeering.

In these times of ongoing and profound collective reckoning with issues of systemic racism and a lack of diversity in so many areas of 21st-century life, we need to be vigilant in making sure that the concept of DEI is honored as much more than a slogan. We cannot just pay lip service to diversity, equity, and inclusion—we must live and breathe it.

Adopting DEI With DEI being more readily adopted by an increasing number of healthcare organizations and institutions, we must hold organizations accountable for paying attention to the nuances of what DEI truly means.

Many of us have come to understand that patients feel more satisfied with their healthcare and are more adherent to recommendations from healthcare professionals when the staff providing their care look like the communities they serve.

When staffing healthcare institutions with diverse staff, issues that must be addressed include where organizations seek pools of potential new hires and inherent biases in hiring practices. For example, recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities is one strategy that could yield a broader field of viable candidates for positions in communities where Black providers would greatly benefit the patient population.

Initiatives such as the American Hospital Association’s Health Equity Roadmap provide tools for organizations to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion toward collective transformation through the assessment of: 

Culturally appropriate patient care

Equitable and inclusive organizational practices

Collection and use of data to drive action

Diverse representation in leadership and governance

Community collaborations for solutions

Systemic and shared accountability 

Organizations like DNPs of Color seek to diversify the ranks of students entering Doctor of Nursing Practice programs and becoming active DNPs. On the academic side, medical schools and other institutions of higher learning that educate our future healthcare providers must also diversify their student communities by actively recruiting a diverse student body.

Specific DEI initiatives have deeper roots and extremely sincere intentions of righting wrongs and turning areas of inequity around. Those that work well and succeed deserve to be replicated by other institutions.

Authoring the Future

Words are powerful, and how we use them is crucial. However, academic and healthcare institutions must move beyond words into purposeful, meaningful action.

Well-worded DEI policies are important because things need to be written down, but the boots-on-the-ground experience of patients, staff, and the wider community matters more. We can ask ourselves how those policies were initiated, how they’re actually operationalized, and where our blind spots might be. We can also take responsibility to speak truth to power when we notice that an organization we’re a part of is not living up to its stated processes or goals.

Moving into new territory and doing the righteous work of righting the wrongs of the past can’t happen overnight. When we’re attempting to undo decades or centuries of systemic racism and a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion, we are relearning the script, both individually and collectively. When we can move beyond words into meaningful actions with real-world implications, we must take this work seriously and give those initiatives the time and funding they deserve.

Our success in DEI is success for all. When everyone feels welcome, represented, seen, heard, and valued, we rewrite the past and author a better future.


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