Tackling structural racism is “on us”

In her State of the School Address, Dean Sharon Anderson calls on white people to act

Dean Sharon Anderson

By Erin Hoover Barnett

School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson delivered a State of the School Address Wednesday, June 24, 2020, that was equal parts celebration, reflection and call to action, covering major accomplishments in the school and lessons learned from the crucible of COVID-19 to, in her words, “the brutal murder by police of George Floyd.”

“Structural racism is in our lane,” the dean said in her third annual address.  “We need to think about what we can do on the level of the individual, the School of Medicine, OHSU and society.”

Displaying a slide of a sign that read: “White people. Do something,” she said, “This is on us. Those of us who enjoy white privilege need to step up.”

Dr. Anderson touched on the school’s 2019-20 accomplishments including:

  • Full accreditation of the M.D. program by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), yet with key areas to address, including a significant lack of faculty diversity.
  • Gradual growth in student and trainee diversity, with credit to multiple initiatives.
  • Community service by students during the pandemic and the protests in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, as well as faculty and staff activism in #whitecoatsforBlacklives.
  • Remarkable accomplishments amid COVID, from rapidly standing up of a testing lab to the explosive growth of telehealth to the appointment of Melissa Haendl, Ph.D., as lead investigator of the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C).
  • ACGME accreditation of internal and family medicine residency programs at Hillsboro Medical Center.
  • New awardees in the SoM Physician-Scientist Program.*
  • The successful Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network (ORPRN) virtual COVID talks attended by as many as 900 clinicians from around the state.
  • Becoming the only Oregon hospital that repairs and replaces all four heart valves with a catheter and re-opening the Heart Transplant Program with a new heart failure cardiology team.

Philanthropy fuels progress, Dean’s Award honors teamwork

Dr. Anderson called out the considerable role and impact of philanthropy. OHSU built a virtual ICU, led by Dr. Matthias Merkel and Joe Ness, with funding from Phil and Penny Knight, Nike CEO John Donahoe and his wife, Eileen, and Nike Chairman Mark Parker and his wife, Kathy.  And an OHSU team led by Dr. Eric Herman fast-tracked a Connected Care Center with a $1.6 million donation from The Andrew and Corey Morris-Singer Foundation.

Dr. Anderson also presented her first Dean’s Award -- to Renee Edwards, M.D., M.B.A., senior vice president and chief medical officer of OHSU Health and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. Dr. Edwards is the first woman to hold the OHSU chief medical officer role. Dr. Anderson is the second, and longest serving female dean in the School of Medicine’s 133-year history. Dr. Edwards was among the only in-person attendees of the dean’s live-streamed talk, viewed online by more than 450 people.

“I am giving this award to Renee for her exceptional service in keeping us all safe,” Dr. Anderson said. “She has been the face of our response to COVID-19, a ubiquitous presence at the emergency operations center, and represents OHSU on the Governor’s Medical Advisory Council. I so wish I could hug you, but I can’t.”

The award acknowledged the intertwined nature of the School of Medicine and OHSU Health Care, which joined forces to form OHSU Health this year, another key theme of the dean’s talk. 

“I am the chief medical officer of OHSU Health, but I am also, fundamentally, an associate professor in the School of Medicine,” Dr. Edwards said. “This Dean’s Award speaks to the truly integrated team we have become.  I am honored to receive this recognition on behalf of the many teams that have worked hard through this pandemic and all we have accomplished together."

Making his life matter

Dr. Anderson’s talk was laced with pointed social justice call outs from the Supreme Court upholding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the value of scientists and clinicians here on non-immigrant visas to OHSU’s enduring commitment to high quality health care for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

She highlighted the disproportionate impact when investigators, their research on hold amid the pandemic, had to balance parenting with working from home and the publications count rose much more for men than for women. She pivoted to the devastating toll of COVID-19 on communities of color. And she ended with the killing of George Floyd, whose bio she read aloud, concluding with:

His words when he was in 11th grade: “I want to touch the world.”

His six-year-old daughter’s words after he died: “Daddy changed the world.”

And her own words: “His life mattered.”

Dr. Anderson committed to joining OHSU President Jacobs in change. She laid out action steps that the school will take, including:

  • Curriculum scrutiny and enhancement – at all levels.
  • Search committees and scientific review committees going forward will be 50% women with substantial representation of persons of color.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship for women and faculty of color.
  • New faculty development offerings, including on anti-racism, health disparities education and trauma-informed care.

She vowed that the OHSU Health Academic Advisory Council, among seven advisory councils and the one that she chairs, will champion terminating the use of “race-correction” in diagnostic algorithms and practice guidelines. These algorithms influence patient care in ways that, according to a June New England Journal of Medicine piece, “direct more attention or resources to white patients than to members of racial or ethnic minorities.”

And she announced formation of a task force that will take on retention and recruitment of diverse faculty in the School of Medicine. “If we can recruit diverse students and residents to OHSU, but they won’t stay on as faculty,” she said, “then we have an inclusion problem.”

But she gave the last word to OHSU students. With their blessing, she showed the world premiere of their video that bears witness to what, at this moment, we are called to do:

“Our Black brothers and sisters face racial discrimination in every facet of their lives, from the moment they take their first breath to the moment when they may be forced to take their last. Health care is not immune. We must turn our gaze inward. We must lead the charge.”

Notes:

View the recording of Dean Anderson’s State of the School Address. (Google Chrome works best). The OHSU students’ video will soon also be posted on the OHSU YouTube channel and the OHSU News Hub.

*Correction: The slide featuring the new awardees in the Physician-Scientist Program incorrectly listed the primary faculty appointment of Dr. Atheir Abbas, M.D., Ph.D. It is Behavioral Neuroscience, with a secondary appointment in Psychiatry.

Links to articles cited in Dr. Anderson’s presentation:

The pandemic and the female academic

Co-creating a thriving human-centered health system in the post Covid-19 era

Hidden in plain sight: reconsidering the use of race correction in clinical algorithms

Stolen breaths