George Engel’s 1977 paper in Science challenged medicine to start thinking about patients as more than just a disease. In coining the term “the biopsychosocial model”, Engel put words to what the field of psychiatry has long felt to be central to treating disease that is, it is hard to fully appreciate a patient’s symptoms unless a doctor also understands the social and developmental context in which a patient works, plays, and lives. This idea of treating the whole patient is a cornerstone in modern psychiatry.
As a field that values an understanding of the economic, social, and political environments from which our patients come to us, we also value the diversity and richness of ideas of our own faculty and staff. In appreciating and respecting the diverse backgrounds of our patients, we also appreciate and respect our own backgrounds.
In 2011, we surveyed the faculty within the Department of Psychiatry about diversity. Of the almost 400 people who completed the survey (40% of the department), we learned that:
- 2/3 of our faculty and staff were female
- More than 15% of department members are a part of an underrepresented minority
- Approximately 20% grew up in economically disadvantaged households
- More than 10% were born outside the US
For the last 15 years, the Department’s diversity initiatives have been spearheaded by our diversity committee, which has been a model for others within the hospital and community. The committee’s milestone achievements have included speaker series, “Diversity Dialogues,” diversity surveys, and consultations to outside organizations. Indeed, our diversity committee has become a template for other diversity efforts in departments throughout the hospital.
I am delighted to announce the transformation of our Department’s Diversity Committee into the new Center for Diversity. The focus of our new Center will expand on the previous mission of the committee and include intercultural education, mental health disparities research, and collaborations throughout the hospital and community.
We are quite proud of the diversity seen within our department, but we cannot rest on our laurels. For as diverse as we are, we continue to strive to bring and retain faculty and staff from all backgrounds into our department with the hope that our own diversity will begin to match the diverse backgrounds of those we serve. Recognizing and appreciating diversity is very much part of our everyday work, not a marginal issue that should be treated as something unusual.
- Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, MD, Psychiatrist-in-Chief