Director’s Reflections: National Black History Month

What does black history mean for our university, our school and our department?

The Johns Hopkins Hospital was founded in 1889 on a then unusual premise that care would be provided “without regard to sex, age or color.”  This is a great part of our history, but, in fact, race played major and complex roles in our history to date.

Desegregation of our inpatient facilities happened on a ward by ward basis and began in the 1950s. Mandatory segregation of the blood supply also ended during that time. Hopkins admitted its first black undergraduate student in 1945 followed by graduate students in 1967. Levi Watkins increased diversity of trainees in our residency when he came to Hopkins in 1971.

But there are powerful ideas and practices, beyond the founding principles, that should give us reason to hope for a better, more inclusive and fair future.

Today, we have more racially diverse leadership with Dr. Robert Higgins, director of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Rex Ahima, director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Dr. Nadia Hansel, director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and Dr. Sherita Golden, vice president and chief diversity officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

As Executive Vice Chair of our department, Sherita launched the Journeys in Medicine initiative with two initial goals: to explore how the issues of race and background inform our worldview, relationship to our colleagues, daily lives and experience at work; and to strategize and develop novel approaches to improving our environment, building a stronger culture of respect and helping us to become better change agents to improve our surrounding community. From this, sprouted our Civic Engagement Committee that sponsors clothing and food drives, health fairs, community panel discussions and more. Our Department of Medicine Diversity Council promotes increased recruitment, retention and advancement of faculty, fellows and residents from groups under-represented in medicine as well as promoting an inclusive environment across the department. Both of our residency programs continue to make strides in recruiting diverse intern classes, becoming more diverse each year. The Bayview Internal Medicine Residency Program was even recognized by the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society with its first-ever Award for Excellence in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in Medical Education and Patient Care.

With support from our School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and under Dr. Golden’s leadership, individuals who are applicants to all residency programs, including internal medicine, and are underrepresented in medicine (UIM) will be offered a repeat recruitment visit to Johns Hopkins. One of these gatherings is at the Marriot Residence Inn on our campus (800 Wolfe St) at 6 p.m. this evening and another is a lunch reception at 2117 Zayed Tower tomorrow. I will attend these important and exciting events, and I hope to see many DOM faculty, too.

Almost 63 percent of the Baltimore City population is black or African American. Studies showing that patients do best with a similar provider are now well accepted. If we truly want to serve the Baltimore community to the best of our ability, we must embrace diversity for the good of our patients. This month, we celebrate the diversity that strengthens our department and Johns Hopkins Medicine overall. As we focus on the future, we must be mindful of our complex history, the courage of our faculty, learners and staff who have broken difficult barriers, and keep moving forward together to get to a better place.