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Written by Balaji

There will always be differences or what is better known as diversity among the members of your Medical Association on parameters such as gender, sexual orientation, physical proficiency, demography, social and cultural traits, ethnicity, and political affiliations. Each member of your Association is unique.

Personality traits, cognitive differences and characteristics that represent identity leads to diversity. Associations should celebrate diversity rather than just tolerate it. Members should be heard and feel valued. There should be no explicit or implicit bias or prejudice.

The Medical Association should take conscious steps towards accepting and fostering diversity. Perception of any bias must be confronted head-on and handled. Do not neglect or ignore any group. The contribution of every member matters. There will always be a variety of views and opinions. It is important to either go for consensus or for voting to gain wider acceptance, without any feeling of boas among any section of the members. Rotation can also be an option so that all shades of opinion are accommodated.

Prevent unconscious bias. Focus on what works best. The purpose of a Medical Association is to build affinity among its members. No assumptions should be made about how choices would work – avoid stereotyping. We cannot assume that a particular segment of members will not be well versed or proficient in performing a medical procedure. We cannot let unconscious bias seep in. Associations should not prejudge. Awareness and anticipation of how specific segments of members will react is always good. Always look for a balanced group while doing an outreach event.

In training programmes and seminars, if groups are required to be formed as a part of the planned activity, look to establish diverse groups. Plan conscious action to support different groups with varying learning needs. Some groups might be more technologically agile than other groups. The challenge for the Medical Association is to take everyone along. The Association can explore the possibility of organising special training for those who require additional training. The Association can encourage self-learning to bridge the gap between different segments within the Association. Encourage open exchange of ideas and thoughts. It is very important to respect cultural diversity. The Association should encourage and respect cultural differences. A feeling of equity and inclusion among members can go a long way. Like any workplace, focus should be equal opportunity for all minority groups. Periodic surveys can be conducted to understand the needs of different sections of members. Community outreach activities are likely to be more successful when member diversity is in line with the demographics of the targeted community.

Understanding the needs, interests and pain points of underrepresented groups or minority groups is very important. Members representing diverse groups bring different ideas and perspectives to the table due to their varied experiences. It is important for the Medical Association to look for diversity in sections that we rarely look for while talking of diversity, such as members with disabilities. There should be no privileged or underprivileged groups within the society. It is important for the Medical Society to invest time and effort in appreciating diversity and managing it well. It is important to not pander to any minority group in particular and there can be a backlash for majority groups. Minority groups themselves may not be comfortable with pandering as it identifies them as weak. Collaboration is the key to building bridge between different groups. It is very important to not make generalisations about age, gender, or any other parameter. Encourage the users of your career centre to post jobs that encourage diversity among applicants. It is not only about attracting candidates from diverse groups but also retaining them. Fostering diversity should be part of the Association’s charter.

The Association can look at the possibility of eliminating the need for photographs, details of race and ethnicity, gender, disabilities while evaluating candidates for within the Society. It is worth evaluating whether accessibility guidelines have been followed by the Society website. The candidate information being collected should be directly helpful to the selection process. Diversity is a business imperative. Build diversity within the Medical Society’s leadership, management, and trustees. It is important to support Health Equity as part of Community Outreach, professional development, and public service programmes. Societies should support diversity among members depending on the population they serve. There are examples of discrimination against certain groups across different countries driven more by institutional bias. Greater diversity will mean greater access to patients of minority groups and greater patient choice, therefore.  Societies can look at mentoring programs for members from minority groups, specific conferences and focus training, funding to encourage diversity, empanelling members from diverse groups to leadership and executive positions within the Medical Society, sponsorships, adding diversity to Association byelaws, and outreach to international members among others.

Challenge subtle, blatant, and overt distinctions among different sections of members. It is important for the Medical Association leadership to address feelings of injustice and indignity among any section of members. One can sense that something is amiss when we see a lot of anger, fear, vulnerability, and aggression among certain groups. This might also manifest in the form of mindless opposition and in some cases complete silence and social isolation. The Association should make it clear in terms of what is unacceptable and correct members using culturally insensitive language. The Association should educate members on what is intolerable behaviour. There should be zero tolerance for displaying unacceptable behaviour. The Association should take issues relating to discrimination seriously – head-on and in a respectful manner. Sensitisation programs on cultural diversity is one way of inculcating an appreciation for the need to celebrate diversity.

Research has shown that healthcare outcomes are better when diverse teams are involved as they foster innovation and can manage change better. Outcomes are better when patients connect and relate with care providers. A question that one can grapple with is whether care outcomes are better when treated by diverse teams. 

Why Diversity?

A Medical Association greatly benefits when the member base is diverse. The Association can be diverse on a variety of parameters such as gender, disability, ethnicity, political and religious ideologies, and sexual orientation among others. The advantages of having a set of diverse members include:

Support better healthcare outcomes

Studies have shown that patients treated by diverse team lead to better outcomes. This is because cultural competency, patient trust and satisfaction go up. Diversity also means better access to healthcare for underserved segments of the population. Diversity within the Medical Association would open doors to these segments during community outreach programmes. A diverse group of members would also mean better sharing of knowledge and skills, besides improving research. Many caregivers do not realise that this is a blind spot. Effective care pivots on a good understanding of a patient’s culture. Trusting relationships built on empathetic communication leads to better patient care.

Impact Public Policy

A diverse group of members in line with that of the population would be able to better influence and impact public health policy. Greater good can be done when the Medical Association is a representative sample of the community at large. Underserved and unvoiced communities connect better with a diverse team.

Attract more members

The Medical Association attracts and retains members better when it is perceived to encourage and foster equity, inclusion, and diversity. If opportunities are made available based on identity, personal attributes, and cultural similarities it is bound to be perceived as discriminatory. It is important that Medical Associations promote individual merit rather than attributes that discourage equity.

Manage other stakeholders better

The Medical Association creates maximum positive impact when it maintains excellent relationships with other stakeholders such as the media and public health authorities. A diverse set of members driven by professional excellence and appreciation for social accountability are better equipped to accomplish this rather than a homogeneous group of members.

 

Fostering cultural equity

The Medical Association can do a lot to foster appreciation among members for cultural differences. Training on appreciating cultural differences to members is useful. In these sessions a lot of emphasis can be laid on self-reflection among members about individual and cultural bias. All communication by the Association should be made in a non-discriminatory manner with a lot of empathy for members from diverse backgrounds. The Association should actively engage, motivate, and encourage widespread participation by members in all the activities. Special emphasis can be laid on understanding how differential treatment driven by overlapping elements of one’s identity such as gender and disability are resolved.

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