SIU Med School Administrator To Expand Diversity Promotion Efforts

Expanding a program that cultivates high school students’ interest in the medical profession and helping future doctors avoid unconscious bias are among the goals of a new associate dean at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

“This job will give me the opportunity to be a collaborator, a change agent,” Dr. Wendi Wills El-Amin said.

Wills El-Amin, 46, a family medicine physician, began her new role Aug. 1 as associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion. She previously was an academic strategist in SIU’s department of medical education and treated patients through the department of family medicine.

The Springfield resident succeeded Dr. Wesley Robinson McNeese, who helped launch SIU’s office of diversity, multicultural and minority affairs in 2001.

McNeese, 69, who is African-American, is a Christian minister who pastors a Springfield church. He has been hired to work part-time on diversity initiatives throughout the SIU system, including the campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

Wills El-Amin, who also is African American, was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Houston, Texas. She said she will take on McNeese’s role of mentoring minority medical students. Among other duties, she also will oversee the Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program, or P4, which McNeese founded in 2009.

The P4 program enrolls Springfield-area high school students interested in potential careers as doctors. The after-school program provides mentors and exposure to the medical field.

Wills El-Amin said she would like to expand the program so parts of it reach students in the elementary and middle-school grades. Many of these young people would benefit from learning that a career as a doctor is a possibility, she said.

Wills El-Amin said her most influential teacher was in third grade — a woman she knows today as “Mrs. Creole.”

“She was the teacher who really made me believe I had a lot of potential,” El-Amin said.

McNeese and Wills El-Amin come from different backgrounds.

McNeese said he grew up “very poor” in East St. Louis. He was salutatorian of his high school class and served in the Air Force in Vietnam before working as a journalist in East St. Louis and a paramedic.

He enrolled at Illinois State University at age 30 and later took part in SIU’s Medical/Dental Education Preparatory Program (MEDPREP) before earning his medical degree at SIU and working a decade as an emergency room doctor. He now is a father of four. His new title with SIU will be system executive director for diversity initiatives.

Since McNeese began his work on diversity at SIU, the school has “definitely made strides” in the percentage of minority students enrolling and graduating as doctors, he said.

SIU currently ranks in the top 3 percent to 4 percent of medical schools nationwide when it comes to the percentage of black students graduating, he said, though the share of doctors who are black nationwide — 4 percent — remains low.

The P4 program, which has served many students who are minorities since its inception, could produce medical students for SIU eventually, McNeese said.

“It’s a ‘grow-your-own’ type of idea,” he said.

Wills El-Amin, the mother of three girls, grew up the daughter of an internal-medicine physician, but like McNeese, she said she experienced racism as she grew up and as a professional.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University in Virginia and a medical degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., before completing a family medicine residency at the University of Texas at Houston.

She joined SIU in 2013 and before that was director of the University of Virginia’s cancer center disparity initiative and the outreach center on health disparities. She is chairwoman of the women’s health section for the National Medical Association, an organization of African American doctors.

Wills El-Amin said she will work to help all SIU medical students, minority and non-minority, understand how the health of their patients can be influenced by factors outside the exam room. Those factors, known as the social determinants of health, can include poverty, education and crime.

She said she also wants to equip medical students with tools to avoid burnout — a common problem among the ranks of physicians. “I’m very invested in cultivating resiliency,” she said.

Unconscious biases can shape the way doctors interact with patients, Wills El-Amin said. She said she plans to use data on those biases to shape the curriculum for medical students and “create a different approach when they’re dealing with their patients.”

The medical school’s staff already has received some training on eliminating institutional racism. That training will continue and will promote equitable treatment regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, Wills El-Amin said.

“My approach is more of how to teach people cultural humility,” she said.

Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean and provost of the medical school, said McNeese has done an “excellent job” for the school. Kruse said Wills El-Amin is “an accomplished medical educator. She has a focus in her heart on the students.”

Wills El-Amin’s annual salary as associate dean will be $210,000. The salary for McNeese’s salary for his new job was unavailable. His salary as a medical school associate dean was $210,000, according to SIU officials.

 

— Contact Dean Olsen: dean.olsen@sj-r.com, 788-1543, twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.

Source : http://www.sj-r.com/news/20170813/siu-med-school-administrator-to-expand-diversity-promotion-efforts

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