By Martha Jurchak, PhD, RN, executive director, Ethics Service, Office of Clinical Ethics, and Shelita Bailey, director, Office for Sponsored Staff & Volunteer Services

The Diversity & Inclusiveness Committee (D&I), from left: Yilu Ma; Martha Jurchak, PhD, RN; Shelita Bailey; Lianne Crossette; and Joyce Johnson, PhD, RN.

The Diversity & Inclusiveness Committee (D&I), from left: Yilu Ma; Martha Jurchak, PhD, RN; Shelita Bailey; Lianne Crossette; and Joyce Johnson, PhD, RN.

Four years ago, the departments of Nursing and Patient Care Services embraced a major goal to co-create an environment at BWH that ensures all employees, patients and families feel welcomed and cared for. Our Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee (D&I) was formed to identify interpersonal and system-wide opportunities for promoting a culture of inclusion and recognizing diversity among staff, patients and families.

The committee started with an assessment, both internal and external, of activities that supported this work and developed a plan for education and dialogue. In 2014, the Lotus Awards were launched to recognize staff who go above and beyond to create an environment where all employees, patients and their families of diverse cultures, ethnic backgrounds, ages, lifestyles, religions and physical abilities are embraced and respected.

Our committee continues to find ways to create a safe space for dialogue about our actions and behavior in our day-to-day interactions with one another and with our patients.

Heart & Science asked us to reflect on the current climate regarding diversity and inclusiveness in the country and within our BWH community.

Heart and Science (H&S): How has the Nursing and Patient Care Services D&I addressed the issue of race relations raised by the recent incidences of violence toward people of color across the country?

SB and MJ:  Our committee offers an opportunity for monthly discussion at the “D&I Dialogues: Conscious Conversations About Race and Health Inequity.” At the most recent meeting this month, we watched President Barack Obama’s speech at the Dallas police officers’ memorial service and a news conference in which a trauma surgeon involved in providing care to victims spoke about race relations. The group then talked about our thoughts and reactions.

H&S: What are the Conscious Conversations like?

SB and MJ: We start each meeting or conversation with everyone introducing themselves by name and how they identify themselves, as you can’t assume someone’s racial identity based on appearance. We then discuss a relevant topic from current events and people weigh in, sharing their opinion, how the event made them feel or what they learned from it. Participants have said how helpful and enlightening it is to talk explicitly about race and what is happening around the country. Most people said they wished we had more time to talk!

H&S: What are some of the topics/themes that have come up?

SB and MJ: Thus far, sessions have provoked thoughtful dialogue surrounding topics such as acknowledging and taking responsibility for our own conscious and unconscious racial biases; the impact of micro-aggressions on employees and patients of color; and calling out racially divisive, uncaring behavior as unacceptable when witnessed and turning it into an opportunity to educate each other. Staff members say they appreciate having a place where they can talk about these issues, which are not easy to discuss but affect us all.

H&S: How do these conversations benefit BWH staff?

SB and MJ: These conversations truly benefit everyone. Ultimately, the goal is to help all BWH staff feel welcomed and cared for in their workplace during a time of great uncertainty and unease. It’s so important for staff of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to join and become a part of the conversation. Even if it’s your first time and you don’t feel comfortable taking part in the discussion, just being present and listening to the issues can make a world of difference to your colleagues and will expand your thinking. We hope to see some new faces at our next conversation.   

The PCS Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee will continue “Diversity and Inclusiveness Dialogues: Conscious Conversations about Race and Health Inequities” in October, meeting on the third Tuesday of the month. Locations of the meetings rotate based on the unit or department sponsoring that month’s meeting. Watch the BWH Calendar and Nursing News for updated locations and time.