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Diversity Pipeline: UC Health seeks to increase faculty diversity

After three packed days of workshops examining career paths, effective communicating, negotiating and networking, 63 of UC Health’s brightest female postgraduate students were ready to relax.

Then the closing keynote speaker of the University of California Diversity Pipeline Initiative conference took the stage, motioned for them to stand up and made them march. UCLA public health professor Toni Yancey led the audience in a session of “Instant Recess,” a short routine of fun, low-impact movements designed to fight obesity. Energized and empowered, they laughed and then listened as the fashion model turned academic role model offered advice for the aspiring health professionals.

“I would work hard to find a mentor,” Yancey said. “You have so much available to you with the Internet and social media. Send an email. Send another email. Stop emailing and make a phone call! If the first person doesn’t work out, find another person.”

Persistence pays. It’s not easy becoming an academic, particularly if you’re a woman having to balance work and family life, but the sixth annual UC Diversity Pipeline Initiative conference made clear that the path is possible. The conference encourages UC underrepresented female professional and graduate students to pursue academic careers in the health sciences. It supports those efforts with mentoring – both for the students and for the faculty conference speakers.

For the students, who were selected by the deans of UC’s health professional schools at Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, the conference was inspiring and eye-opening.

“It’s encouraged me to enter a career in academic medicine,” said Juliet Okoroh, a Nigeria native who is a third-year medical student at UC San Diego and participant in the PRIME program focused on serving California’s underserved. “I really do want to work with immigrants and people of diverse backgrounds.”

UCSF nursing student Schola Matuvu agreed. “As a student of color, to see so many ethnicities in this conference, it attests to the fact that it’s important to have different perspectives and views, and it represents the people we are going to serve.”

This year’s conference added mentoring for UC faculty participating in the program to help them thrive in their careers and be better prepared to support sustained mentoring activities.

“It’s added another dimension to this conference, and it’s made it more powerful,” said Mijiza Sanchez, a conference organizer and director of the UCSF Multicultural Resource Center.

The conference is one of UC’s efforts to diversify its faculty. Increasing faculty diversity is a priority for UC leadership, as evidenced by new grant projects aimed at improving the hiring of women and minority faculty in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Faculty diversity varies across UC Health. In nursing, public health, pharmacy and veterinary medicine, nearly half of UC’s tenure-track faculty are women and less than 8 percent are underrepresented minorities. In dentistry and optometry, more than a quarter of tenure-track faculty are women with more than 6 percent underrepresented minorities. In medicine, it’s 21 percent women and 5 percent underrepresented minorities. While UC medical schools have increased student diversity at a rate outpacing California’s private schools and the national average, progress has been slower among faculty.

“You have to be committed to diversity over the long term,” said conference speaker Renee Navarro, UCSF vice chancellor for diversity and outreach. “These training programs take five, sometimes 10 years.”

Navarro was pleased that this year’s Diversity Pipeline Initiative conference sponsors included the clinical and translational science institutes of UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UCSF. Students also heard about the possibilities of pursuing clinical and translational research careers.

“We’re starting to plant the seed and identify a roadmap of how that could happen. There are opportunities. Many times people just aren’t aware of them,” Navarro said.

The conference also was sponsored by the UC Office of the President’s divisions of Academic Affairs and Health Sciences and Services, California HealthCare Foundation, and UCSF’s Multicultural Resource Center, Student Academic Affairs and Office of Diversity and Outreach.

UCLA professor of radiology and pediatrics Ines Boechat, a conference speaker and diversity champion, said she is encouraged by efforts such as the UC Diversity Pipeline Initiative.

“It’s very empowering to be in a roomful of women who share the same goals,” Boechat said. “You realize you are not alone.”

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