e028. Unlearning Racism with Marcine Pickron-Davis

Dr. Marcine Pickron-Davis (she/her) serves as the Chief Diversity and Community Relations Officer at  Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). Since 1899 PCOM has trained healthcare professionals to see the whole person—not just the symptoms. They focus on preventive health—developing attitudes and lifestyles that help prevent disease—as part of their comprehensive approach to providing high-quality, holistic care. PCOM employs nearly 700 faculty and staff. In this episode, Dr. Pickron-Davis shares how PCOM employees are unlearning racism.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Dr. Marcine Pickron-Davis

Interview Transcript

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Dr. Marcine Pickron-Davis. She serves as the Chief Diversity and Community Relations Officer at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine or PCOM. Since 1899, PCOM has trained healthcare professionals to see the whole person, not just the symptoms.

[00:01:09] Amy: They focus on preventive health, developing attitudes and lifestyles that help prevent disease as part of their comprehensive approach to providing high quality holistic care. PCOM employs about 700 faculty and staff and serves countless students and residents in their program. Dr. Marcine Pickron Davis, welcome to the show.

[00:01:30] Marcine: Good morning, Amy. It is a pleasure to talk with you about the work that is happening around diversity, equity inclusion at PCOM. I look forward to our conversation.

[00:01:40] Amy: Thank you so much, I’m excited to talk to you about this, I always love talking to people in academia because they’re the front lines of the workforce and in preparing people to go into the workforce in all the different industries that we all serve and work in.

[00:01:57] Amy: But you are actually really focused internally on not just the student population, but on your faculty population, and I know we’re gonna talk about a couple of your initiatives in just a moment, but before we get there, I wanted to ask why is this work important? at why have a Chief Diversity Officer, or Chief Diversity and Community Relations Officer, why invest in these programs at PCOM?

[00:02:25] Marcine: So, I guess I would start with the investment is important if we’re committed to mitigating health equity. I will say I am new to the field of academic medicine, I’ve been in my role since 2017, not new to higher ed, but new to the field of medicine, and so as I began to really understand how to affect change, one of the ways in which we do that is through the research, and the research tells us that in order to mitigate health inequities, you have to diversify your physician workforce.

[00:03:01] Marcine: And not just limited to physicians, but any of your careers in medicine. It’s really important to have representation. For the whoever is treating you for people of color, in particular underserved communities, to have access to someone who speaks their language, someone who understands their particular culture.

[00:03:25] Marcine: And so, the work of my office, but also the work of the college really has been around focusing on preparing all of our students to be culturally responsive, to practice culturally responsive medicine, but in particular to focus on diversifying our workforce.

[00:03:43] Amy: This notion of health disparities is huge.

[00:03:45] Amy: And I’ve talked to, on this show, I’ve talked to folks who work in colleges of nursing, I’ve talked to a couple of different hospital groups about what they’re doing to address health disparities, and this is also important because it, I really see two factors at play here. One is the systemic issues, right?

[00:04:03] Amy: The environments, there are environmental factors that are contributors to health and health outcomes, but there are also personal bias fact in addition to the systemic things that contribute to different health outcomes and when people are going into a situation where they feel very vulnerable because they don’t, there’s a knowledge gap, right?

[00:04:23] Amy: Just if you were going to an accountant, there’s a huge knowledge gap in what you know about accounting or a tax law versus what your accountant knows, but when you go to the accountant, you’re not naked, you’re not sedated, right? Your very life is not in their hands, and the same cannot be said when we’re dealing with the medical field.

[00:04:40] Amy: So, we have this huge knowledge barrier, first of all. But then there are all these other vulnerabilities and power differences that we experience in the medical field, and I know your organization has done something really innovative in helping first the faculty and then the students attack or dismantle the personal side of this.

[00:05:02] Amy: Can you talk a little bit about your unlearning racism initiative and how that got started?

[00:05:06] Marcine: Yeah, so when you and I had talked a couple weeks ago to prepare for our conversation, you asked me to really think about those initiatives I’m most proud of, and so the two to come to mind, the online racism, the is the one that we are focusing on now that evolved as a request from our white faculty and staff following the untimely murder of George Floyd in 2020.

[00:05:27] Marcine: Our college, like many universities and industries created these community learning, these community gatherings which invited and the PCOM community to come together just as a support just to build community, just to connect with one another.

[00:05:49] Marcine: It was across all three of our campuses. It was virtual, of course, cuz we’re still in the pandemic, and we had over 300 people show up. We broke people up into small groups to and we gave them some questions, some questions to reflect on. There was a small group that consisted of white faculty and staff, we had facilitators.

[00:06:13] Marcine: We also had students as well as other, as a, as well as faculty facilitating these small group conversations. That particular small group included two facilitators who happened to be white. So, when we were finished with the community gathering the facilitators, I met with them to debrief the experience and the two facilitators who were in the, with the white faculty and staff said.

[00:06:35] Marcine: We could have talked for hours, in fact there was a request from several of them, we really wish that we had this space to do this more often, more regularly, not when there is, a tragedy, and as I talked to the two facilitators, we were still, we were all in a large group, and I says we can make that happen.

[00:06:55] Marcine: I am a strong believer, white people need to do the work, right? And if they’re asking for an opportunity in a space to do it, we should provide that, we should offer that, and so out of that group, our unlearning racism initiative, it is led by the one of the facilitators who happens to be an adjunct faculty member in our organizational development pro leadership development program.

[00:07:16] Marcine: And my assistant and as I mentioned to you previously, we started that initiative in Fall 2020. They meet in cohorts over the course of six weeks, and we’re starting our fourth cohort this month, and we have about 20 people who have volunteered to be a part of this cohort?

[00:07:58] Marcine: and they do readings, so, from the first we just start, so for the first cohort, that was a pilot, right? And there was a small group, in fact, we decided that we wanted to test out this initiative, and so we actually reached out to several white faculty and staff to see if they’d be interested.

[00:08:19] Marcine: And so, from that, the initiative has really matured, it has evolved, it is still dynamic and ever changing. We take their recommendations very seriously, we do evaluations and they do have accountability partner, so in between their meetings, they have someone that they’re meeting with, and so we, as I said, we take this work very seriously and so we’ll change the reading.

[00:08:42] Marcine: Based on feedback that we get. We include podcasts, we include TED Talks. It is such a rich experience, and you know what I’m most proud of is the my white faculty colleagues. Who are just so committed to this work and really wanna figure out how do I respond when my uncle or my cousin at a family gathering says something that really is racist or sexist or homophobic?

[00:09:09] Marcine: So, they’re getting these skills to practice, not just to take a deeper dive into unlearning racism, but also practicing getting a set of tools so that they could practice. So since we’re now starting our fourth cohort, what we’ve decided to do was many of them have also expressed interest in cross-cultural dialogue.

[00:09:29] Marcine: So, we’re now, many of them have said not all of them, and many of us said, you know we’re really ready now to engage in the conversation with our black and brown family at PCOM. How do can we make that happen? So, we’re in the process now of creating an intercultural dialogue experience for anyone interested in.

[00:09:49] Marcine: Having conversations that are, people call them courageous or difficult, but really providing a space for people of color and for white people to come together and really talk authentically about, our roles in changing or being leaders, advocates, allies in, in this work.

[00:10:08] Amy: That can be very difficult because on the one hand, you wanna move progress forward, on the other hand, I would imagine that there, there’s a real desire to protect your black and brown employees from the power dynamics that already exist in the world as part of these conversations as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:10:24] Marcine: You bring up a good point, and so Amy, I will also say the impetus and creating the unlearning racism initiative was because we really wanted to target our white managers. The majority of our managers, unlike many other industries, are white department heads and managers.

[00:10:39] Marcine: And so, we really wanted to target those that those individuals, because you’re supervising for the most part, majority of their supervisees are black and brown staff and so we’re our hope is that they are getting their getting a much more deeper understanding about what those power dynamics look like.

[00:10:59] Marcine: Being a person the majority, and managing the majority of people who are in your care every day, it’s a, it’s an honor to be a leader, are people who are looking up to you, and so it’s really developing those skills to learn how to be an inclusive leader as well. The intercultural dialogue experience that we’re gonna offer is voluntarily.

[00:11:20] Marcine: It’s gonna be voluntary. Not all of our white participants are at a place where they feel comfortable. So, we also have an ERG of African American faculty and staff at the college, and so they’ve, we’ve already proposed the idea to them about a year ago, and they’re very interested. So, we’ll see.

[00:11:36] Marcine: We’ll pilot it and, they’re asking for this opportunity. I will say that there was a little bit of pushback when we decided to launch this initiative. I had to strongly advocate why this was important. The pushback had nothing to do with wanting to prevent white faculty and staff who were interested to get together.

[00:11:57] Marcine: But there was some pushback from some of my white colleagues who said unlearning race and racism, there’s some perceptions that were all racist, no, we’re talking about how do we un, how do we unlearn the structural racism, that many of us are a part of, how do we unlearn institutional racism?

[00:12:14] Marcine: It’s broadly defined, but some of ’em took issues like they felt as though you’re automatically assuming that white people are racist. No, I said, you can call it whatever you wanna call it. Exploring racism, examining racism. But this is what it is, it, and it’s totally voluntary. Maybe you should become a part of it if you really are curious about its intent. That was my response.

[00:12:34] Amy: Now, I think that’s brilliant because when we call people in to the conversation and they have an opportunity to learn, then we can assess is the resistance out of misunderstanding or miscommunication, or is the resistance out of something more?

[00:12:49] Amy: And I think that’s a brilliant strategy for, for inviting people in and seeing, where they’re, where their growth opportunities really lie, I think is really important, and you’re going beyond these conversations and you’ve got so many initiatives in place and I know that your.

[00:13:05] Amy: Your work has infiltrated all of the campuses of PCOM, but I know that there’s another initiative where you’re focusing really on representation in the medical industry. You mentioned representation within your own faculty, but representation in the in the doctors that come through your program.

[00:13:22] Amy: Can you talk a little bit about how; from a very practical standpoint you’re making changes in who’s in medicine to begin with?

[00:13:29] Marcine: Yeah, so I was inspired by a talk that I heard pre covid in 2018. This woman gave a talk about the absence of black and Latino men in medicine and how it was deemed a public health crisis.

[00:13:51] Marcine: And so, at the very end of her presentation, she said, and what are you gonna do about it? So, in the audience, there were people like myself representing osteopathic medical schools, so each, there are about, there are over 35 pathic medical schools and all of those medical schools, there is a representative who is leading or advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

[00:14:12] Marcine: They may not be a chief diversity officer or have the title, but this group comes together not twice a year, and we meet and we share strategies, we share best practices, we share worse practices, what not to do in the field and so she was an invited speaker and so she, she looked at office and says, So what are you gonna do about it?

[00:14:33] Marcine: And it stuck with me, and I just had to epiphany and I thought, why don’t we create, why don’t we pilot a initiative that specifically targets African American and Latino undergraduate students, right? That are already studying science, biology chemistry, and let’s work with one of our current partners, which is a it’s deemed a emerging historically Hispanic serving an emerging Hispanic serving institution, and they’re not far from the college.

[00:15:06] Marcine: We launched it in 2018 and we host a cohort of undergraduate Latino and African American men on our campus for the summer. We pay them a stipend, so it is a undergraduate summer research, internship experience, and we partner them with the faculty mentor, and we’ve been doing this, we even did it virtually during the pandemic.

[00:15:28] Marcine: And it’s not as meaningful, but we have been able to offer this initiative from 2018 till now, and the students have the opportunity to be emerged in research that can have met their current research at their institution. Anecdotally we’ve heard from the dean of Cabrini University, where we have the partnership with is that the students come back much better prepared more excited about their major, about biology.

[00:16:00] Marcine: And we have them do the end of the program, it’s eight weeks, we have them do a like a PowerPoint research slam, like a mini research slam, and they get a chance to talk about their research experiences in their learnings over the summer. If you close your eyes, Amy, you would’ve thought that you were at a conference.

[00:16:19] Marcine: It’s like a if you ever been to a conference, you ever go to the part where they have the posters, you close your eyes, you would’ve thought you were at a conference. These young men are just outstanding and some of them, we just got some I just, I reached out to the college about two weeks ago to ask them where did our first cohort land?

[00:16:36] Marcine: Cuz we tried to target sophomores, and so one of them is in a nursing school, I think they’re at Emory, another one actually is working in our research lab as a full-time employee, he is getting ready to take the, apply to be a physician assistant, and the other one is in graduate school someplace else.

[00:16:58] Marcine: So, it is working. I am just so pleased that the call supports this work cuz it takes funding to do this, and that our faculty also see the value of this work, and so we have to have, in order to make the initiative work, you also have to have faculty buy in cause they’re giving up eight weeks of this summer to do this.

[00:17:21] Amy: I think this is an incredible program, and my favorite word that you said in there was stipend. Because so many programs, and especially even in medical programs, there’s a lot of unpaid work that happens as part of the educational process, and that unpaid work keeps people out of the running because some people can’t afford to work and not get paid.

[00:17:44] Amy: And this notion of having a summer, summer project that’s defined with a stipend can make all the difference for whether a student is able to keep pursuing their degree, whether they’re able to, double down on their interest in their STEM fields or whatever field they’re pursuing and then the fact that you are, you’re actually seeing the outcomes of these students becoming more invested.

[00:18:09] Amy: Going to grad school, working in the field and the industry is huge. How many people go through this program each year?

[00:18:16] Marcine: So, because we not a research oriented medical school like a Penn or a Temple we are really becoming more intentional about recruiting more faculty who have research agendas.

[00:18:26] Marcine: So I just wanna just prep it as that is that if so, we are able to host three to four per year. For the first time, so since the inception of the launch of this initiative in 2018 we focused specifically on careers in healthcare, right? So it doesn’t have to be DL, it could be a career as a physician’s assistant or physical therapy or pharmacy.

[00:18:51] Marcine: These are be other programs that our college offers. We also have a clinical psychology program, and you may already know this, is that there also is a severe absence of people of color in the field of psychology. So, for the first time next summer, we have two faculty of color in the psychology department who have volunteered and say, we want to also create a pathway for men of color.

[00:19:16] Marcine: So, both of them are going to host a African American, Hispanic male in psychology next summer who are interested in pursuing careers in clinical psych.

This is huge, because not only are you doing the work, you’re inspiring others to do the work. Not only did you do something about it, other people are now looking at saying, what can I do about it? that’s phenomenal leadership.

[00:19:40] Marcine: Yeah, and we did, let me just we did have one of our faculty member, our, I think it was our, yeah, it was during the pandemic who was who in our psychology department who did host a freshman psychology student, and we decided, and it was virtual, but we decided that it’s best for a.

[00:20:01] Marcine: Psychology student to have the real hands-on experience. So, I would be remiss if I did not include that particular cohort, but our emphasis has really been on science, but I am, as you said, I am just appreciative that we have some faculty in a field where there is an absence that are interested in creating a pathway.

[00:20:19] Marcine: For African American and Hispanic males because, there are people, there are black and brown people are in our community that really would be, that are interest or that need mental health counseling or need some kind of counseling. And perhaps hesitation might be because there isn’t someone who, where there is a shared identity.

[00:20:38] Marcine: So, I’m really grateful that we’re gonna be able to expand this particular.

[00:20:44] Amy: I think it’s phenomenal. The other thing I love about it is it’s so replicable, right? And I know one of the reasons behind why you chose these two examples in particular as work that you’re doing, that you’re really proud of, aside from the fact that you’re very proud of the work and you should be, is that these are things that other organizations could be doing right now.

[00:21:05] Amy: The, it doesn’t take a lot of, you need the faculty support, you need the investment, but you don’t need 20 years of lead time to invest in these efforts.

[00:21:14] Marcine: You make a good point. You’re right, when I think about the timing, both of them were launched pretty fairly quickly. When we had the community gatherings in June, we launched the online racism initiative that September.

[00:21:29] Marcine: And you’re right when I went to that talk, I believe it was December of 2017, and then that summer of 2018, we launched our black and Hispanic undergraduate research initiative. You’re right it the timing is important, but yeah you can’t allow the timing the, yeah, you can’t perceive it as, oh my God, this is such a big uphill rock that I have to, try to push up this hill.

[00:21:50] Marcine: I, I think you’ve heard me use the word pilot twice with these initiative, you can pilot it, you can start small and grow it from there.

[00:21:58] Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Iterate over time until it’s where you need it to be, and then you scale from a point of scalability, right? I think that’s wonderful.

[00:22:05] Amy: Dr. Pickron-Davis, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for being here, for sharing these incredible stories with us and these insights. I hope that some of our listeners somewhere are in similar roles and similar, similarly positioned so that they can make these kinds of changes in their organizations so we can start to chip away at some of the representation gaps in medicine.

[00:22:29] Amy: We can start to undo this health crisis that is racism in our country.

[00:22:33] Marcine: Yes, Amy, and it is people like you who are champions, ambassadors, and allies who also see the value of this work, and it is making it public, so that, yeah, so that people can have access to being creative, being innovative, thinking outside the box.

[00:22:54] Marcine: And I think both of these initiatives are examples of just out of the box thinking.

[00:22:59] Amy: Absolutely, and all from a question of what are you gonna do about it is phenomenal. Thank you.

[00:23:58] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Sasha Thompson from the Equity Equation.

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Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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