Students in the Brody School of Medicine, such as the first year medical students pictured above, now have access to the Office of Diversity Affairs on the first floor of the Brody Building. The diversity affairs office strives to enhance cultural competency among medical students as an essential element of a medical education. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Diversity awareness key to educating medical students

Sept. 4, 2014

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

Upcoming Event
Sept. 8: “Why Sickle Cell Disease is a Disparities Disease,” noon-1 p.m., Brody Building, room 2W-50. Lunch is free for the first 50 attendees.

Other Resources for Students
  • American Medical Women’s Association

  • Association of Native American Medical Students

  • Brody Gay-Straight Alliance

  • Christian Medical & Dental Association

  • Latino Medical Student Association

  • Spanish in Medicine

  • Student National Medical Association
In the midst of receiving white coats and reciting pledges, another important message was delivered to medical students arriving at East Carolina University this fall: Diversity is valued at the Brody School of Medicine.

“Diversity is all of us,” Assistant Dean of Diversity Affairs Dr. Todd Savitt told first-year students during orientation in August. “We all comprise diversity. What you see on the surface is only part of (who we are).”

The Office of Diversity Affairs, staffed by Savitt and Diversity Coordinator Chanel Arrington, relocated this summer to the first floor of Brody in an effort to be more accessible to the students they serve.

“When you walk off the elevator, you see us,” said Savitt who is also a professor of bioethics and interdisciplinary studies. “We’re right there.”

They host lunch-and-learn events throughout the year and offer food during study breaks while exams are underway. They coordinate the Safe Zone Program training that is designed to increase understanding and awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

Perhaps most importantly, the cultural competency their programming encourages is essential to the practice of medicine.

“Communicating in an effective manner – especially in cross-cultural interactions – can have a strong impact on the doctor-patient encounter,” said Dr. Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor of student affairs at ECU. Hardy spent 16 years at the Brody School of Medicine prior to her current post.

“The population of eastern North Carolina is becoming more diversified,” she said, “particularly as it relates to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation/same-sex relationships and parenting, social economic status, religious practices and indigenous health remedies/complementary medicine.
Jinai Desai, left, and Taylor White chat during a session for first year medical students at the Brody School of Medicine.

“ Actions from the boardroom to the reception desk can send a clear message whether differences are welcomed and valued.”

In addition to serving students, Savitt and Arrington support faculty and staff groups that recognize and value diversity, including the Brody Women Faculty Committee. They interface regularly with a group of vice chairs for diversity and inclusion – appointed from each academic department at Brody and tasked with coordinating faculty recruitment and retention, community involvement and professional development programming.

“Diversity is all about differences,” Hardy said. “The more interactions that medical students have with individuals who are different…the more opportunity they have to learn about others.”

More information about diversity affairs at Brody is available at http://www.ecu.edu/bsomdiversityaffairs.

Pictured below are Brody School of Medicine students Alexander Almeida, left, and Dan-Thanh Nguyen.