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VCU Health’s inaugural diversity, equity and inclusion director shares first-year reflections

Dr. Marcelle Davis works to incorporate DEI principles into everything we do.

VCU Health downtown campus, Richmond

In a year fraught with racial tension and increasing calls for social justice across the nation, Dr. Marcelle Davis began her tenure as VCU Health’s inaugural director of diversity, equity and inclusion in October 2020 with one goal in mind: To ensure that equity is at the core of everything we do at VCU Health.

As her first anniversary approaches, Dr. Davis shares what she's learned and what she’s excited about moving forward at VCU Health.

Marcelle Davis headshotWhat does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean for VCU Health?

We are a safety net hospital with a mission that says we're going to preserve and restore health for all people of Virginia and beyond through innovation in service, research and education. DEI is intricately woven into that mission.

For example, a doctor does not know a patient's sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, culture, etc. simply by looking at them. DEI is taking the time to not assume we know our patients but to actively listen to them so we can learn from them in order to provide optimum care.

How does a health system begin to integrate DEI into its core values and practices?

That’s the million-dollar question. I like to think in terms of three areas: students, patients and our workforce. At VCU Health, the patient experience should always be the beacon that drives everything we do. If we learn how to treat each other respectfully, equitably and inclusively, that automatically translates to better patient care and patient experience.

In terms of our workforce, we know that it’s important for our patients to see themselves in our providers, and that starts with recruiting. If we are intentional about including DEI initiatives in our recruitment efforts — thinking about who we recruit and where we recruit from — then we will be able to build a workforce that can effectively meet the needs of our patients.

The third area we focus on is our students, and this includes students from across our university, health sciences schools and residents. We know that representation matters and that students must feel valued and respected by our faculty. In order to foster this culture, it is important that our faculty members be culturally responsive and can support our learners regardless of their dimension of diversity.

What are your key takeaways from this first year?

First and most importantly, our team members are incredibly passionate about the work that we do. They care deeply for our patients, and I get to see that each and every day.

I think the challenge is that because of the pandemic, our team members are tired — but it's not just us as a health system. It's health care as a whole. Those of us who are not frontline workers, we have to think outside the box to support those who are.

Second, every single leader that I have met with understands the value of DEI, and that is half the battle. Right now, our work lies in making sure everyone fully understands what DEI truly means, how it impacts them and how it is incorporated into our daily work.

What are you most proud of so far?

I’m proud to share that VCU Health was announced a winner in the Ragan 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity Awards. We were selected as the winner in the Intranet Resources category for our work on building a culture of inclusivity through our intranet. Here, we introduced DEI resources as a way of building and fostering a culture of inclusivity, empowerment and lasting change. 

What would you like others to know about DEI at VCU Health?

We are all responsible for this work. It's a part of everything we do. It doesn't matter what we look like or what our job is. We all play a role in the success of this work.

Creating sustainable change for DEI means weaving it into everything we do and with all of our people. It means it’s a part of our recruiting strategy, our marketing strategy, our education strategy, our talent management strategy — from the top and all the way through the organization. It means it’s built into every policy and practice. That’s what will keep it going.

And that’s what I’m most excited about.  We have work to do, but if we work together and keep DEI at the forefront, we are going to move mountains for our patients.

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