News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Dena Hassouneh on Racism in Health Professions Education

Dena Hassouneh of the Oregon Health & Science University discusses her work to eliminate racism and diversify the medical and nursing workforce.

Q: Why are you focusing on racism and diversity as a Macy Faculty Scholar?
Hassouneh: The United States is rapidly changing into one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world. Yet despite the demographic changes in the general population, the health professional workforce remains largely made-up of Americans with European ancestry—with ethnic minorities lagging far behind. We must diversify the medical workforce in order to provide high quality care to patients of all backgrounds.

The reasons for the gap are complex but include racism and other systems of oppression in academic and clinical environments. My work as a Macy Faculty Scholar aims to identify and address problematic behavior and forms of exclusion that contribute to the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in nursing and medical schools.

Q: How will your Macy-funded project address the effects of racism and oppression in nursing and medical education?
Hassouneh: I will first conduct a review of the literature and conduct interviews to find out the kinds of oppression and racism that minorities experience in medical or nursing school. For example, research suggests that minorities often are held back from leadership roles or do not receive the mentoring they need to succeed in mostly European-American academic or clinical environments. I will then identify the diversity programs that seem to be effective and will pull out the lessons learned from such models. Finally, I will take the findings from the research and use them to develop a pilot program aimed at encouraging diversity in medical and nursing schools. We are in dire need of models that academic institutions can follow if we are to start eliminating systems or racist behavior that keep talented minorities from achieving their full potential.

Q: What has motivated you personally to study racism and diversity?
Hassouneh: I have seen health professions faculty and students of color who are excluded or treated differently and not given the same access to resources that can lead to a successful career. It is important to address racism and systems of oppression in the education of health professionals. I hope to find solutions that medical and nursing schools can use to create a more hospitable environment so that all faculty and students have an equal opportunity to grow professionally.

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