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American Association for Physician Leadership
American Association for Physician Leadership


Diversity and Wellness: Their Connection and How You Can Help

Understand how bias affects wellness and how to promote inclusivity in your organization.

Wellness - Diversity
Wellness and diversity are inextricably intertwined whether we realize it or not. A white man’s journey from medical school to physician leader, for example, can look vastly different from that of an African American man, a Latina woman, or someone who is transgender. Burnout can affect any physician, but facing the obstacles that come with being part of a marginalized group can make these physicians more susceptible to workplace stress and burnout.

As a physician leader, it’s your responsibility to understand how diversity and wellness are connected, how this can impact your team members, and what you can do to promote wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion.

Diversity and Impediments to Individual Physician Wellness

The stressful demands of medicine already predispose physicians to burnout, but being a woman, a minority, or identifying as part of the LGBTQIA population can increase an individual’s risk for burnout. On top of dealing with the typical workplace stressors, these individuals face the additional obstacle of contending with overt prejudice, subconscious bias and microaggressions, and systems that do not historically reward their race or gender.

For instance, women physicians may face the assumption from patients that they are nurses or assistants and may be asked when “the doctor” is going to visit them. Women are also more likely than men to be the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace  and are less likely to report it due to the traditionally male hierarchies that exist in healthcare. And although women comprise the majority of the healthcare workforce, they occupy only about 13 percent  of C-suite roles  – with even fewer of these roles occupied by women of color. These obstacles can fuel burnout and cause female and minority physicians to leave the healthcare profession while also discouraging others of similar backgrounds from entering the field of medicine at all. Patient care and healthcare in general are ultimately strengthened when diverse voices are represented at all levels, which is why promoting inclusivity and creating an environment of wellness for everyone is so important.  

Things You Can Do to Promote Wellness and Inclusivity at Your Organization

1. Start Being Mindful of Your Own Subconscious Bias

By definition, subconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that are formed outside our conscious awareness, but through education and mindfulness we are able to form more inclusive personal and organizational mindsets. One subconscious bias example is the familiar surgeon riddle in which a boy and his father get into a car crash, and after the boy is rushed into surgery, the surgeon declares, “I can’t operate. This boy is my son.” So, who is the surgeon?

If you’ve encountered this riddle before, the answer may be obvious, but studies reveal that many still struggle to solve it, offering answers ranging from “the surgeon is the boy’s stepdad” to “the boy has two fathers.” The correct answer, of course, is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Take a moment and consider assumptions you may have made about a team member or patient. Was this assumption routed in stereotypes about race, sex, or socioeconomic status? If you were in their shoes, would you be offended or upset if someone made similar assumptions about you? Sometimes taking a moment to think about why you’ve said or done certain things can help reduce subconscious bias. Being a more inclusive and thoughtful leader will help create an environment of wellness for both coworkers and patients.

It is helpful to remember that everyone possesses some degree of subconscious bias, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Successful physician leaders are mindful of these thoughts and work to create a more healthy, inclusive workplace environment that is devoid of harmful biases.

2. Listen to Marginalized Individuals and Champion Them

One of the most helpful and supportive things you can do is to simply listen and believe a person when they divulge their ongoing bias-related struggles. Check in with team members and be prepared to take appropriate actions if they say they feel unsupported or are upset about a comment or situation at work. Resist any urge to interrupt or dominate the conversation – this is your opportunity to listen and ask what you can do to support them with this particular situation or within a larger context.

Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in the C-suite, so act as their advocate if a leadership position opens up. Be sure to consider someone who might otherwise be passed over for the role but whose unique voice and experiences could lead to truly transformative new policies and initiatives. Having multiple voices that represent different backgrounds, experiences, and cognitive diversity will make your organization that much stronger.
3. Hold a Diversity Training in the Workplace

Before holding a diversity and inclusivity training, first ask team members what they would like to see addressed in these trainings and what they believe would be most helpful for the organization. An outside expert or company will know how to best hold these trainings in a sensitive way that complies with laws and regulations. However, also implementing the suggestions of your coworkers can go a long way toward tailoring training that is most helpful to your organization.

When everyone feels included, appreciated, respected, and celebrated, wellness naturally follows.  Consider what a physician leader like you can do to promote wellness and diversity in your workplace. The American Association for Physician Leadership is invested in promoting diverse voices, so we invite you to contact Nancy Collins, VP of Content if you are interested in contributing content related to wellness and diversity. Please include your proposed topic for a chance to partner with us on this important topic.

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The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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