SURGEON, AUTHOR, AND INSPIRING SPEAKER, DR. SEUN ADETAYO CLOSES OUT HER DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION MINI-SERIES EXPLORING HOW INCLUSION CONTRIBUTES TO SUCCESS IN DEI IMPLEMENTATION.

Dr. Seun Adetayo, renowned plastic surgeon, author, and inspiring speaker brings her diversity, equity, and inclusion mini-series to a close by reinforcing her hypothesis that for a successful implementation, programs must incorporate a holistic approach that integrates inclusive practices.

OMAHA, NE – May 13, 2022 – In the final installment of her diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mini-series, Dr. Seun Adetayo addresses the importance of inclusion in every DEI program. Inclusive business practices can be exhibited in many different ways. Promoting an organizational culture that respects and celebrates the variety in their workforce will contribute to individuals feeling valued and welcomed. Without inclusion, “diversity hires” are left out and their contributions may never be realized. Dr. Adetayo reinforces the importance of a holistic approach that promotes diversity in balance with meritocracy, incorporates equitable access to resources and opportunities, and instills inclusive business practices that highlights the value each person.

The entire article can be read here.

About Dr. Adetayo

Dr. Seun Adetayo currently practices as a board-certified Plastic Surgeon in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a Diplomat of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a Professor of Surgery, and Chief of Pediatric Plastic Surgery. Dr. Adetayo is unique in her field. As a gifted surgeon operating in a competitive field, Dr. Adetayo is also the first foreign-born (Nigerian) female minority surgeon to have built a successful nationally accredited multidisciplinary program for children with birth defects in Northeastern New York. She continued on this trajectory of helping patients and families and now heads the Division of Pediatric Plastic Surgery where she serves as the Chief at the Children’s Hospital. Her journey has been dedicated to caring for patients and their families, advocating for legislation both locally and nationally and mentoring students, residents, and faculty. Her leadership in research, education, and community engagement contributes to the legacy that she is continuing to cultivate every day. She shares her journey and strategies for success via her print material, meeting panels, blogs, and speaking engagements.

Dr Adetayo has authored several book chapters in leading texts, including the second edition of Comprehensive Cleft Care which is an authoritative text volume on cleft and craniofacial disorders and treatment. She also authored a chapter in the Family Companion Guide for educating patients and families with cleft and craniofacial diagnoses; as well as a chapter on treatment of zygoma fractures in the text Operative Techniques in Plastic Surgery.

She has received over 40 awards and recognition, and she has contributed to over 50 published works and over 60 presentations at regional, national, and international meetings. She is published in peer-reviewed publications like journals including Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Cleft Palate Craniofacial Journal, Annals of Plastic Surgery, Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, and Journal of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics.

Dr Adetayo plays an important role in mentoring and teaching in surgery, healthcare, and professional circles. She was an invited surgeon and surgical educator during her last mission trip to Zimbabwe, where she served as the lead surgeon and guest lecturer for various hands-on plastic surgical reconstructions and teaching sessions. She is active in Women In Leadership lectures and advocacy. She was a speaker for the Synthes collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Company on Improving Cultural Competence and Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare, and was one of four selected panelist speakers on Pioneering Women in Reconstructive Surgery International Program by L’Oreal in conjunction with Resurge International. She was an invited speaker at Healthcare Finance Management Association’s (HFMA) annual Women In Leadership Conference in 2019 in upstate New York. In 2020, she served as the Keynote Speaker for the Stryker Women’s Network National Conference: National Women in Surgery and Leadership event in California.

Dr. Adetayo has served in various community leadership positions including Chairperson of the Long Beach Rescue Mission, Co-President of the Phi Delta Epsilon Premedical Society, Co-President of the Pritzker REMEDY Cuba Medical Aid Mission, Coordinator of the Chicago Local Chapter of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) program for inner city Chicago school kids. She currently serves as Managing Editor and Co-Chair of the Learning Resource Committee of the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA).

She has been involved in various medical education and surgical trips to several countries including Cuba, Haiti, Nigeria, Peru, and Zimbabwe, where she was relied on as an educator and surgeon. She was awarded a Diploma of Honor conferred by the President of the Congress of the Republic of Peru during her time there. She collaborates on meaningful initiatives with various international organizations including Rotary International and The Smile Train on improving surgical outcomes, healthcare delivery, patient safety, and quality control standards in surgical reconstruction. She continues to be active in advocacy and philanthropic efforts in healing children and advancing communities.

An Exploration Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion: INCLUSION

The Glue That Binds Diversity And Equity Initiatives And The Interconnection Of All Three

The final installment of this series is focused on inclusion. You can read the entire series here:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) wrote an inspiring piece on How to Attract and Support Neurodiverse Talent. This piece explores a different variety of diversity – cognitive diversity – as well as the importance of incorporating inclusive practices to support diverse workforces. Khalil Smith, leading the diversity and inclusion practice at the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) notes, “Inclusion absolutely is the device that unlocks diversity, because diversity in and of itself is interesting. But [you must create] an environment of inclusive behaviors where people genuinely feel and believe and see it demonstrated that the way that they think, the way that they act, the way that they approach problems, their background and who they are [is valued].”

What Are Inclusive Practices?

Inclusivity requires intentional action. What can put diversity efforts at risk are conflated grand gestures that leave no lasting impact on team culture or standards for work, individuals, and communities. A great example that I’ve found was from the forementioned SHRM article. Consider that you’ve recently added new members to your team that represent diverse backgrounds, cultures, ways of thinking and working, and more. Bringing them on the team without creating an environment that contributes to feeling welcomed and accepted, will only leave them isolated with no true sense of belonging. When an environment like this persists, people will ultimately feel or become ostracized and leave. Inclusive practices can be incorporated by surveying new hires to capture their preferred methods of collaboration and communication styles. This reinforces that their different backgrounds, preferences, opinions, and expertise are valued and prioritized.

One example I vividly remember was the first time I styled my hair in braids as Chief of the Pediatric Plastic Surgery Division. I didn’t think much of it, until one of the African American workers came to me privately and shared that it was the first time in over 15 years that she felt the courage to style her hair in braids. She recounted being told during previous interviews that braids were not professional. Not until she saw me with braids, did she decide to get her hair braided as well. Wow – it was like a gut punch. For over a decade, she felt that she could not be her authentic self at work, void of any feeling of inclusion.

Why Diversity Cannot Exist Without Inclusion

There is an attention-grabbing catchphrase that sounds something like “diversity without inclusion is exclusion.” What does that mean? These words reaffirm the recurring theme of this series; that using diversity as a prop without implementing inclusive practices will eventually lead to failure. Inclusivity is creating communities and workplaces where individuals are included irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity, age, disability, gender, or expression.

In conclusion, diversity is the key that opens the door. Equity makes the door accessible to everyone by considering each person’s circumstances to determine how to provide resources and opportunity. Inclusion creates the environment that welcomes, values, and respects the different ways each individual opens that door. It is the existence of each of these concepts and their synergy that contributes to a more just and representative society.

Thanks for reading and taking this glimpse into diversity, equity, and inclusion with me. Hope you have enjoyed this mini-series!

An Exploration Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion: EQUITY

Equity Versus Equality – What Is The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

Our DEI series continues with an inquisitive look at Equity. I hope you will also read part one, the introduction, and part two, a deep dive into diversity. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of DEI, and one that often garners the strongest negative feeling because at face value, it appears unfair until one digs deeper. A lot of this sentiment is because equity is often confused with equality.

Many illustrations have attempted to improve understanding of equity versus equality. Organizations implementing DEI programs are also evolving from an equality-focused to an equity-focused approach with better understanding of the differences and their impact on successful implementations.

One of the more common images (shown below) demonstrates the difference between these terms. Three people of varying heights are peering over a fence to watch a sports game. If each of these individuals is given equal resources (equality) – a pedestal in this case – the tallest person is still at an advantage, while the shortest person is still at a disadvantage despite the pedestal provided. However, when an equitable approach is taken, each person has the opportunity to access resources with consideration to their specific needs. This results in all three individuals being able to see above the fence.

A similar version of this concept comes into play with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, giving wheelchairs to every citizen (equality) doesn’t meet the objective of removing the mobility barrier for those who are immobile. However, giving wheelchairs to those who are immobile (equity) provides them with access to a resource that creates the opportunity for access to resources for mobility. Creating equity initiatives does not mean the individual won’t work at it, but without the opportunity, the individual does not have an option to work at something. This is what equity does – creates opportunity by providing resources with the consideration for individuals’ or groups’ specific needs or disadvantages.

Figure – Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

Equality is defined as “the state of being equal.” The criticisms that exist when evaluating equality as a principle identifies that just because something is “equal” does not always mean it is “fair and just.” The trouble that arises is defining what it means to be fair and just. Measuring what makes something equal may seem more straightforward; everybody is given one pedestal of the same dimensions. However, measuring when something is fair and just, is not as easily accomplished.

Equity takes into consideration the individual needs of those involved and applies a treatment that resolves any undue disadvantages that exist between different groups of people.

The overlap between these terms is their intended goal to “address imbalanced social systems.” The Milken Institute School of Public Health published a helpful article in November 2020 that focused on this topic. In another illustration, we see two individuals with unequal access to a shared system, an apple tree. First, we see how equality may impact this scenario when each person is given a ladder of the same dimensions. Without considering that the apple tree is not producing apples at the same rate on either side, the equal resource provided to both parties does not resolve the imbalance. When targeted resources that consider the conditions and needs of each party are provided, then we see results where both individuals have access to collect and consume apples. However, the true source of the imbalance in this scenario has not been resolved. Repairing and reforming the system, applies a treatment to the apple tree that more evenly distributes the fruit being produced. This is where justice comes into play, when a social system is reformed to eliminate the source of imbalance. But the topic of justice is another matter entirely, beyond the scope of our blog today.

As we are seeing through our DEI series so far, it is important not to implement these philosophies a la carte. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are principles of a holistic program. Each pillar serves to enhance the goal of DEI such that the synergistic result is greater than the sum of its parts. In our last installment of this series, we will focus on inclusion. Without inclusion, diversity and equity will ultimately fail. Why? Stay tuned to find out in our final installment of the series!

An Exploration Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion: DIVERSITY

What Happens When Diversity Is Prioritized? The Good, The Bad, And The Inspiring

Welcome back to part two of the DEI series. This specific post is dedicated to diversity. You can read the introduction to this series, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Why have these words become popular? What do they really mean? How is the world changing as a result?

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as, “the condition of having or being composed of different elements: variety.” When considering diversity in the workplace, this means creating a working environment that includes various categories and non-homogenous types of workers. This can mean hiring a range of experience levels, or workers from different socioeconomic statuses, race, religion, and orientations.

Whenever I talk about diversity, I make it a point to emphasize that I am not advocating diversity just for diversity’s sake. I am not recommending that we promote diversity at the expense of skills, merits, or accomplishments. A critical requirement when applying DEI principles in the workplace is to ensure that diversity does not overshadow or replace meritocracy, effort, or hard work, but rather to complement it.

Personally, when I was in college and medical school, I chose not to go to a program that promoted diversity just to reach a quota. I wanted to be in a place where my merit and hard work earned me my position. I wanted my patients to know they were getting a doctor that would give them the best care, and never doubt that I was there just in an effort to increase diversity. My patients could be assured that the quality of care I would provide would be top-notch, regardless of my race, gender, or any diversity initiatives were in place. Diversity would enhance my presence there, not hinder it.

How Diversity Can Positively Impact the Workplace

Promoting diversity standards and requirements can lead to many positive effects. At minimum, employing a diverse workforce will result in an organization that shares the experiences and perspectives of the clients that they serve. Services become more valuable, and products are developed to better meet customer needs with greater satisfaction.

A wider range of perspectives gives way to greater creativity, innovations, and employee engagement. Additionally, in regard to quantitative results, diversity has also been evidenced to improve productivity. Employees with different backgrounds bring with them different problem-solving approaches and varying skills and specialties, which supports better delegation of tasks. When tasks can be specialized and performed by the most compatible performer, results are optimized, and the strengths of each player are reinforced. There are many articles that promote the benefits of incorporating diversity policies and programs; including this Forbes piece on 8 Reasons Why Diversity And Inclusion Are Essential To Business Success.

The Unintended Consequences of Disingenuous Diversity

While generally, the impacts of DEI are intended to be positive, an un-biased evaluation of DEI programs and philosophies includes examining the unintended negative effects that could also result. The value of representing different perspectives can be compromised when the impetus of creating a diverse workforce is reduced to meeting a quota or checking a box. For example, there has been evidence that the requirement to meet “diversity hire” metrics can drive undesirable behaviors from prospective employees. Specifically, there have been stories of candidates falsely claiming the identity of an under-represented group because they believe (and may have witnessed practices that support this belief) that diversity is prioritized over merit. When diversity is not supported by complementary values and principles, morale can be diminished, turnover can become prevalent, and workplace conflict may increase.

What Works?

What has proven successful is partnering diversity, with other important standards like equity and inclusion. This approach comprehensively incorporates success criteria for which a program can be developed when looking to improve culture and representation within an organization.

Thanks for reading. Join me for part three on Equity, as we continue our evaluation of DEI and answer the common question – what is equity, and how does equity differ from equality?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Why Have These Words Become Popular? What Do They Really Mean? How is the World Changing as a Result?

In recent months, I had the opportunity to promote the stories of marginalized voices. February, I recognized African American and Black doctors who have contributed to significant advancements in the medical field (links to our series Honoring Black Excellence are below). Last month, I celebrated Ada Lovelace and her critical role as the first computer programmer in light of today’s digital revolution. Taking the time to focus on lesser-known stories created an avenue to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which inspired me to explore these concepts in more detail. This series will delve into how DEI shows up, not only in the workplace, but also in our daily lives and society.

There are many opinions about diversity, equity (sometimes interchanged with equality), and inclusion. One of the earliest references I could find was about the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), established in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal was to “help prevent discrimination against African Americans in defense and government jobs.” Many presidents would continue to execute orders throughout history to expand protections and increase awareness for marginalized groups. This includes the incorporation of national observance months for African Americans and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, anti-discrimination protections for adults with disabilities, and even improved access to interpretation services for those whose first language is not English.

Laws and policies that were established to “end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination” come with their own share of criticisms and biases. A fair assessment of the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion starts by recognizing that while well-intentioned, the execution of such efforts may come with unintended consequences. My hope for this series is to explore each of these concepts with an open-minded, fair, and investigative approach.

A search for the definition of diversity leads down a variety of paths, with one of the most encompassing for the context of this exploration provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Diversity encompasses the range of similarities and differences each individual brings to the workplace, including but not limited to national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures.”

Equity, which should not be confused with equality, is defined as the quality of being fair and impartial. Early efforts to “level the playing field” focused on equality, which did not always consider the varying circumstances that contribute to one’s situation and what they may require to reach a similar outcome as others. Equity engenders different reactions in many people, both positive and negative. Many times, it is because equity is confused with equality.

In the context of DEI, inclusion aims at everyone feeling welcomed, valued, and respected for who they are, including their differences. “Inclusion is not the same as tolerance.” No matter how spectacular the efforts for diversity and equity, they will ultimately fail without inclusion initiatives.

I hope you will continue with me on this journey of learning and evaluating the impact that DEI can have. Stay tuned for the remainder of this series where we explore each of these three concepts individually in more depth!

Check out the stories from our Honoring Black Excellence series:

Lady Ada Lovelace: The First Computer Programmer

How Her Work Laid the Foundation of Success for Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Today’s Computer Revolutionaries

“That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.” – Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was not wrong. 170 years after her death, her accomplishments are still being honored and celebrated. Without her work, we may not know the successes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other Computer revolutionaries.

It is a great opportunity to bring awareness to Ada Lovelace’s story during this month of April celebrating Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. Her work has changed our lives and her story is reason enough to encourage everyone, especially girls and women, to explore the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.

As I previously discussed during part one of a two-part installment on the importance of meaningful data, my path to a career in the medical field started on a nontraditional path in Computer Science. While we learned about the work of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in almost every class, the story of Ada Lovelace was almost always overshadowed or forgotten. As I read more about the history of the field, I became fascinated with the role of Ada King – Countess of Lovelace – in the computer revolution.

Ada was born December 10, 1815, to poet Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke Byron. Lord Byron is most recognized for his popular poem about Don Juan. His love was for the arts, and mathematics was not something he favored. Her mother, Annabella raised Ada as a single parent, after separating from Lord Byron when Ada was less than two months old. Her mother promoted a love of mathematics and science over poetry. As Ada grew up, she wanted to blend her love of poetry and art, with her enchantment for numbers and science. Ada wrote to her mother, “If you can’t give me poetry, can’t you give me ‘poetical science’?” This marriage of art and science is still seen today, permeated in the work of Steve Jobs’ who believed computers and devices should not only be functional, but also have sleek and creative designs.

In 1833 at the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, the mathematician credited with creating the first mechanical computer called the Analytical Engine. Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer who wrote the code that would run on computers like the one Babbage created. The work that Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage started could only now be fully realized in our era with the development of microchips, internet, and the digital revolution.

While Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine was only able to compute numbers, Ada Lovelace envisioned that the machine could be programmed to express more than just numbers – like sound, picture, text, video, etc. We take that for granted now, but this was a radical idea in her time.

Computers were merely calculators initially. Ada’s ideas brought to life the possibility that they could be so much more. Babbage focused on numbers; Ada focused on how machines could be programmed to produce any output. “Thus, she made the conceptual leap from machines that were merely calculators to ones that we now call computers,” as noted in Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

Ada Lovelace’s story is a powerful inspiration. The possibilities that arose from Ada’s unique perspective have been described by many as “visionary.” She saw beyond the simple function, albeit complex during her lifetime, of sequential calculations and the opportunity to explore more intricate processes. As a Physician, holding a Computer Science degree, I am inspired by her and driven to create innovation in surgery where I get the opportunity to blend my love of the arts and sciences in surgical techniques for my patients and their families.

Read more about Ada Lovelace’s story from one of our following sources:

Honoring Black Excellence: Doctors Who Made Lasting Change in the Medical Field

As we bring our Black History Month series to a close, I’d like to highlight two doctors and one medical student who broke down racial barriers, advocated for equality, and contributed to advancing the quality of healthcare. However, I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to raise awareness about the disparities faced by Black Americans in the healthcare system.

The Century Foundation’s Director of Health Care Reform, Dr. Jamila Taylor, published an article in December 2019 titled Racism, Inequality, and Health Care for African Americans. Dr. Taylor notes that even with health insurance coverage improvements, “…disparities still exist across health conditions when comparing African Americans and whites, including maternal mortality, infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health issues.” For instance, “African-American woman are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women.”

Organizations like The Century Foundation, Society of Black Academic Surgeons (SBAS), National Medical Association (NMA), and the Association of Black Women Physicians (ABWF) are doing the hard work to promote racial diversity in healthcare and to contribute to improving the quality of healthcare for African Americans and other minorities. It is through awareness that we can begin to make change happen.

In a personal effort to contribute to raising awareness surrounding the challenges that minorities face when seeking equitable and quality healthcare, I published a peer-reviewed journal article to explore the impact of diversity in healthcare. This article, titled Cultural Competence and Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open (PRS GO) and was developed in collaboration with my medical student mentees to raise awareness in this arena. In order to effectively meet the needs of a diverse population, the healthcare system must evolve and mirror the society it serves to overcome diversity-related barriers. This article went on to receive the PRS GO Best Special Topic Award Paper in 2020. You can read the full article here and listen to the podcast interview here.

The stories of Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston, Dr. James McCune Smith, and medical student Malone Mukwende remind us that we can make a difference by overcoming these challenges one step at a time. Let’s learn more about the contributions and significance behind each of their stories.

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Like many of the stories we have shared, Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston also experienced challenges in her pursuit of a career as a physician. Having overcome poverty and prejudice, Dr. Gaston prioritized providing quality care for poor and minority families. Dr. Gaston earned her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati-College of Medicine, where she was one of six women in her class and the only African American woman. One night during her internship, she had a revelation that would change the course of her career. As Dr. Gaston was caring for an infant with a swollen hand, she had not considered causes beyond physical trauma. Once prompted to check the baby’s blood work, Dr. Gaston identified that the source of the swelling was a result of the presence of sickle cell disease. The fact that she had not even considered this possibility forged a new dedication to learn more about this disease. By 1986, Dr. Gaston had published the results of her study that evidenced why all babies should be screened for sickle cell disease at birth. As indicated in her biography written by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “One of the most important conclusions of her work was the ease with which the complications of Sickle Cell Disease could be avoided with early treatment, a life-saving practice that became a central policy of the U.S. Public Health Service.” As someone who has personally lost close friends to Sickle Cell Disease, I am grateful for her work that is saving many children’s lives today.

Dr. James McCune Smith

Dr. James McCune Smith was not only a physician, but he was also one of the leading abolitionists in America. Born into slavery in 1813, Dr. Smith’s path to a career in the medical field was riddled with obstacles. He was refused admission to American medical schools, leading Dr. Smith to the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he became the first African American to earn a medical degree. When Dr. Smith returned to New York, he opened the first black-owned pharmacy. Dr. Smith not only earned respect and honor as a physician, but also was active in advocacy. The wide range of his advocacy and accomplishments can be found here in the Smithsonian Magazine article, America’s First Black Physician Sought to Heal a Nation’s Persistent Illness.

Malone Mukwende

“It’s more than just a handbook. It’s a movement for change.” This is the quote found on Malone Mukwende’s website detailing the vision for the handbook he “devised to showcase clinical signs of diseases on black and brown skin.” As a medical school student in London, Mukwende recognized a significant barrier to providing quality care for a diverse population. He identified that most of the images and data he was learning from were based on studies of white patients. When asked to explain Mind the Gap, the handbook he has created, Mukwende shared, “I would ask ‘what does this look like on other skin tones?’ just for my own learning. Often people told me that they didn’t know. I decided that something needed to be done.” Mukwende understood how important equal representation is in understanding medical diagnoses and treatment. Without these references, medical conditions have and would continue to be misdiagnosed leading to further complications and potentially death. Mukwende was interviewed in TIME magazine and the rest of this interview can be read here.

Thank you for joining me in this celebration of Black Excellence. You can read the first two posts in this series, titled Honoring Black Excellence, using the links below.

The Surgeon to Perform the World’s First Successful Open-Heart Surgery, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Honoring Black Excellence: Surgeon Who Performed the World’s First Successful Open-Heart Surgery – Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, I look to sources of inspiration as a fellow surgeon. In this piece, I would like to share another inspiring story of a surgeon and leader in the medical field. This story is about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African American surgeon who performed the nation’s first successful open-heart surgery in the summer of 1893. This surgery was performed at the hospital that Dr. Williams opened himself, Provident Hospital – the first hospital of its kind that was operated by an interracial staff.

As a surgeon with today’s benefits of advanced surgical tools, I am deeply impressed with Dr. Williams’ story and the conditions under which he performed this groundbreaking surgery during his time. In 1893, there were many advancements transforming the medical field; but when Dr. Williams performed this milestone surgery, he did so without the assistance of modern surgery tools, x-rays, or antibiotics. His patient, James Cornish, was released from the hospital on his own two-feet 51 days after this life-saving surgery. You can read more about this impressive accomplishment in a write up from Jackson State University about the life and career of Dr. Williams.

Dr. Williams continued building a legacy in 1894 when he moved to Washington, D.C. As the Chief Surgeon of the Freedmen’s Hospital, he made it his priority to create a more equitable and inclusive medical field through his leadership and advocacy. A year after moving to the nation’s capital, Dr. Williams co-found the National Medical Association, another way to create opportunities for Black medical practitioners. In 1895, the American Medical Association did not allow African American membership. Dr. Williams moved to open doors for others, not keep them shut. Learn more about the history of African Americans and organized medicine.

In the first installment of this series, we remembered Dr. Brown, a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and the first-ever African American female surgeon. Dr. Williams actually spent time as a visiting professor at the same Historically Black Medical College as Dr. Brown.

The inspiring story of Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown was an example of perseverance, determination, and grit, evolving her budding interest into a fulfilling career in the medical field. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams’ story is equally important, demonstrating advocacy for equal representation and removing racially motivated barriers to advance the field and as a result, deliver more equitable health care. Both stories inspire and challenge us all as humans, regardless of race.

The final installment of this Black History Month series will celebrate the leaders, both past and present, who are making groundbreaking changes in the medical field. Their work directly addresses the disparities faced by Black Americans in the health care system. It is through their advocacy that innovative approaches were developed to deliver better health care for all.

If you have not read Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown’s story, you will find that blog available here. Join us next week to continue our Black History Month celebration as we recognize three additional doctors who have truly made a difference.

Honoring Black Excellence: The First African American Female Surgeon, Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown

Black History Month was first officially recognized by President Gerald Ford on February 10, 1976. President Ford urged American citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor through our history.” However, 1976 was not the first year that Black History Month was celebrated. As early as 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson advocated for the celebration of “Negro History Week” during the second week of February. Negro History Week evolved when the Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University included the entire month of February in this celebration beginning in 1970.

This month, I would like to honor trailblazers who challenged the norms of the medical field and overcame great obstacles to create opportunities for the current and future generations. In a three-part series, we will explore the stories of five amazing medical professionals, starting with the first African American female surgeon, Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown.

Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown achieved many things during her life and career. This prestigious list includes becoming the first African American woman to become a surgeon in the south, which was racially segregated in 1949. Dr. Brown was also the first African American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Her story reminds me of the Randy Pausch quote, “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game.” Dr. Brown proceeded with perseverance through every obstacle life could present. Also known as Dr. D., she was a hard worker who set her path early towards a career in the medical field. Those who recognized her brilliance at a young age fostered her spirit and encouraged her passion. Among her greatest supporters were her foster parents, Lola and Samuel Wesley Redmon. As a testament to their influence in her life, Dr. D. named her daughter Lola, becoming the first-known single female in Tennessee to legally adopt a child.

During her career, Dr. Brown contributed to the medical field not only as a surgeon, but also as an educator. She was appointed Chief of Surgery at Nashville’s Riverside Hospital from 1957 to 1983. During this time, she also served at her alma mater, as Meharry’s Clinical Professor of Surgery. It is no surprise that as a result of her tenacity and determination, Dr. Brown was the first African American woman to be made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. As a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons myself, it can be easy to forget that this opportunity was not always accessible. I am humbled by her dedication and contributions that advanced the field and paved the way for future surgeons and female leaders in the medical profession.

I will leave you with Dr. Brown’s quote when asked about the example she has set for others:

“[I am proud to be a role model,] not because I have done so much, but to say to young people that it can be done.”

Be sure to read part two of this series – the story of the African American surgeon to perform the world’s first successful heart surgery, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

Read more about Dr. Brown’s life from a biography written by U.S National Library of Medicine and in the Tennessee Encyclopedia.

The Importance of Meaningful Data & Its Impact on Successful Decision Making

Part two of our data mini-series explores how data can have unintended consequences in work and life and introduces the strategies we recommend for overcoming the challenges in assessing data sources and responsibly applying insights from data in your decision-making process.

Lessons from Amazon …. and Me

As data use has become pervasive and unavoidable in society, it can become increasingly difficult to separate the good, from the bad and the ugly. In some cases, data must be dead-on accurate. For example, a smart car with autonomous driving features must receive and interpret data to successfully make decisions that could be life or death. This is an example of good data processing in action.

Bad data processing can lead to bad decision-making. An example is when Amazon received severe backlash after reports of employees using bottles to go to the bathroom at their workstations because of limited breaks caused by data-driven decisions to increase productivity. Amazon missed an opportunity to delve into understanding the story behind the data. Rather, it set targets and metrics for its employees purely based on numbers. Ponder an example of teachers who are penalized for not meeting goals for virtual student learning. Simply relying on numbers without context, penalties were issued to these educators without considering the root causes. Specifically, students in low-income households could not afford devices. Even when they received donated devices, they did not have adequate internet access to utilize those devices. Looking beyond the numbers can lead to improved decision-making that targets the root of the issue. There are many benefits to data, but we must be aware of the risks if we don’t critically evaluate how data is collected, processed, and utilized for higher-level decisions.

A personal example showcasing the importance of understanding the story behind the data was during the early emergence of COVID. Patients could not be seen in-person and healthcare was converted to virtual visits. We developed a patient portal to grant access to health information data online (an amazing feat in itself). As the institution circulated goal targets for enrollment in this online portal, I noticed my team and division were below targets. While discussions focused on pushing the goal and signing up more families to use this helpful resource, I decided to step back and critically evaluate the data for my team. Rather than asking what we could do to push the numbers higher to meet pre-set targets, I decided to question the data and ask why the numbers were so low in the first place.

Data Talks – How to Listen and Question Data for Better Decision Making

In this ongoing tale, I did what I am asking you to do – ask questions of your data. As a leader, it is important that when you are presented with data, you automatically flex your thinking and ask yourself a few questions – How was this data captured? How is this report generated? What is it supposed to measure? Is the data measuring what we really want to measure? Are we asking the right questions to capture this information? If not, why not? Always ask – what is the story behind this data?

So, I did just that. Rather than bulldozing our way to hit just a blind target, I questioned, “What is the real story this data is trying to convey?” Upon further inquiry, the story behind the data became evident. The “input” was revealed, and I was able to see why the “output” was falling short of targets. I discovered that non-English speaking patients had barriers to signing up and using the online portal because interpreter services were not available. This led to frustration from families. Ultimately, they couldn’t utilize this excellent resource that the organization had built to help them. I connected with the tech team at my hospital and discussed these findings with them. I advocated that rather than pushing a telehealth goal for providers and teams, the infrastructure in place needed to be aligned in order for providers and teams to meet and exceed those goals. Thus, the organizational focus shifted from driving up the numbers, to creating a system that actually led to the improvement in care by decreasing barriers to health care access. All of this would not have happened if I hadn’t challenged myself and my team to ask questions about the data and investigate the story behind the data. Sure, we could have signed up more people for the service and we would have hit the target number, but we would have left many families behind that had barriers to access.

The Way Forward – Data Literacy

By now, we have seen why meaningful data is very critical to successful decision making; but how do you define and capture meaningful data? Do your data management practices emphasize measuring numbers and overvaluing systems, or are you looking beyond the data to truly understand what is being measured and the story being told? Organizations can risk losing talent, or face challenges with recruitment and retention, if metrics alone are relied on for strategic decision making. Individuals and organizations should strive to improve the data literacy of their teams. Gartner defines data literacy as one’s ability to “read, understand, create, and communicate data as information.” While there are many experts on this subject, I’ve collected a few tips below to help you in managing data and optimizing your decision making in a metrics-driven world.

Selection & Governance: Starting with the right inputs may be the most important consideration. Data of high quality is considered trustworthy, accurate, relevant, and complete. Governance is the process of formally managing data assets to maintain quality and security. Not all data is appropriate or relevant, nor should it be accessible to all audiences. Taking care to be intentional when selecting data and ensuring that this data is controlled to preserve quality will be critical for collecting meaningful data.

Transformation & Analysis: Tim Stobierski, Harvard Business School Online, describes the key data literacy skills and concepts for business. Transforming your data prepares it for analysis. Often, raw data must be “wrangled” or “cleaned” in order to be used. Stobierski goes on to describe the four types of analysis. Descriptive analysis explores “what has happened.” Diagnostic analysis evolves this understanding by diagnosing the why behind the what. Predictive analysis is the process through which predictions are made about “what might happen.” Finally, prescriptive analysis is the decision-making process to achieve a “desired outcome.” Once you have selected and transformed high quality data, coordinating strategic analysis to discern insights and conclusions will ensure that data is being integrated in your business responsibly.

Visualization & Reporting: The process of visualization requires that you have processed the data such that others may easily consume this as information. There are many ways to visualize and share the output of your data collection and analysis. Consider who your audience is before tailoring your delivery. Understanding how and why this data impacts them will ensure that you deliver richer insights.

Lastly, remember that data always tells a story. It is your responsibility to listen carefully and accurately to what it is saying. Your ability as a leader and manager to master data interpretation are indispensable for setting accurate objectives and meaningful key performance indicators for you and your team. Here’s to improving our data literacy and mastering data management to effect change as we sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly.