University of Texas Permian Basin is starting a Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Certificate program in fall 2022.

“We’re accepting our inaugural cohort right now,” said Alanna Dennison, academic chair-Department of Human Performance, Athletic Training Program Director and Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Certificate Program Coordinator. “It’s a certificate that we received funding from the Hearst Foundation to support and it’s intended to help us to address health-related and wellness-related disparity, not just within the Permian Basin but nationwide. So we’re … looking at racial, cultural, physical, linguistic, certain medical conditions, really all facets of diversity and health care; how healthcare providers interact with those populations of people,” Dennison said.

She added that this is something that has been called for across the country.

“The Institute of Medicine, back in the early 2000s, had published a lot of research and a document called ‘Crossing the Quality Chasm’ … where they really started to address health disparity and health-related quality and looking at … the differences in how providers interacted with patients and how things like implicit bias and stereotypes were impacting patient outcomes. It’s been since the early 2000s that we’ve known that this is a problem, and we really are just now starting to address it through diversity and inclusion work in healthcare,” Dennison said.

She added that language barriers, among other things, can impact care.

“We know that there’s a huge gap if there’s a provider who does not speak the same language as the patient. We know that the quality of care goes down, even though the provider should be providing an appropriate translator; and a family member is not an appropriate translator,” Dennison said.

“There are so many facets of dealing with diversity in healthcare that we just haven’t started to tap into. I think the other challenge that we’re facing is that there’s a lack of knowledge, not based on people not wanting to know but just that people don’t know, so even the appropriate language to use. The language that we use in the LGBTQ community has changed multiple times in the last handful of years and so when people aren’t sure what to say they won’t say anything at all. … Helping people navigate what questions you can ask and maybe how to go about asking these questions to get better information; looking at social determinants of health as a component of wellness, instead of just looking at a patient’s symptoms on a given day; starting to address the whole person, including all of their facets of diversity, or not diversity, are important,” she added.

She said cohorts have been kept at 50 students.

“Our goal is to … have in that 25 to 50 range. We’re looking for healthcare providers from every component of healthcare and then other people that may not be healthcare providers, but that are tied to health care. So maybe it’s administrators, or other educators within the hospital system, recruiters, people that may not necessarily be providing patient care, but that still play a role in health care. And then current students as well. We’re also looking to recruit students that are wanting to enter healthcare so that they enter with those foundational skills and knowledge to hopefully help them start to address some of these issues in their practice,” Dennison said.

She said the certificate is designed to take one year.

“It’s a three semester program and each semester has two eight-week courses,” Dennison added.

You don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to participate in the program.

“… This is open to anybody with interest in the health care area. We do have a separate application process for this so they don’t have to go through the UT System application. We’re also offering continuing education for a variety of health professions for folks to take this program, as well,” she said.

Rhonda Lewallen, who does marketing and recruitment for the College of Health Sciences and Human Performance, said a lot of professions have to complete continuing education units every year, so this will help them, too.

Dennison said she thinks there are some very good principles in the program.

“The final course in the sequence is a Quality Improvement and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion course. (It) is really geared towards addressing what the specific needs are whenever you’re at that point. The individual that is teaching and developing that class is a DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) consultant that’s worked as a healthcare administrator and worked with huge hospital systems for a number of years. And so the focus really is identifying what problems you see within your own system, whether it’s within your school, within your hospital, within your patient practice, whatever it might be, and then identifying a quality improvement plan and actually following through on that plan for eight weeks to actually make some changes,” Dennison said.

“We’re not just looking to get people the information, we want them to actually apply it and integrate it. It’s built very much to be a hands-on type program, even though it’s online so that you’re taking what you’re learning in those courses, and actually applying, and doing, and trying to drive some change in your own practice so that hopefully that will spread out through the greater landscape of healthcare,” Dennison added.

DEI can also have accommodation added on to it to make it DEIA. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accommodation.

Faculty has been hired for the program.

“That’s been the interesting part is that every time you have these conversations, something else that’s new comes out. This space is changing so fast that hopefully this is an opportunity for people to at least get comfortable enough with the material that they’re willing to go out and step into it because it can be an intimidating space,” Dennison said.

She added that she thinks the program will stay around.

“I think that we’re trying to … create action in this area. I’ve been to countless seminars and lectures and presentations about diversity, equity and inclusion. The common feeling when you leave is this was great information, but now I don’t know what to do with it. This will be a program that creates an action, so the assignments will be built that you apply what you’re learning and you integrate it into your work. So that people, again, develop that level of comfort with talking about these things and being involved in that space,” Dennison said.

What started the ball rolling for Dennison on the program was a conference she went to where they had participants take a privilege assessment.

“It was looking at everything from your race and your gender and your job and your role … and identifying what areas you had privilege in. The maximum score on this quiz was 17 … and I got a 17 out of 17. And they just left it, so they give us this topic and they give you this quiz and they’re like, well, there you go. Now you’ve acknowledged your privilege and that was the end of it. I had one of the highest scores in this group of people. The whole trip home, this bothered me. I felt like the world’s worst human being because I’m this privileged (person) sitting in my white castle on top of the hill and I didn’t know what to do with that. They made us acknowledge it and they brought it to light, but then we just left it. I think that happens a lot that we talk about it, but we don’t ever talk about what practices we need to change to actually be able to fix it,” Dennison said.

She then was able to take a couple of Hispanic Serving Institution courses that brought to light some action items, such as how you word your syllabus.

“There were little things and once I started to be able to get some traction on those things, I was like this makes sense. So when we looked at developing this program, we had originally centered it to try to meet the needs of this area, so we were looking more at Hispanic health care. As we started to do the research on this, we broadened our horizons on it and opened it up to all facets of diversity because I think our area in particular does need some education in the Hispanic realm. But these things translate across all the areas of diversity. So I just had to have a little wake up call and get uncomfortable,” Dennison added.

She credits Donna Beuk, Dean of University of Texas Permian Basin’s College of Health Sciences and Human Performance, with pointing her in the direction of a larger grant than she had originally found.

“… Everybody across the university has been very receptive to it. And across healthcare, we’ve had the education leaders and hospital systems reach out. We’ve had all kinds of healthcare education faculty reach out. It’s been very well received thus far,” Dennison said.

Dennison said the faculty that will be teaching in the program is a “really exciting group.”

“We had the largest ever application pool of faculty at the university. We had hundreds of applicants wanting to teach in this program. And by hundreds I mean like 570, so we had a ton of very, very qualified individuals, and they’re from a variety of health professions …,” Dennison said.

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