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Dr. Joan Reede, Dean at Harvard Medical School, On Macy Grant and Workforce Diversity

Boston, MA

Joan Y. Reede, MD, MPH, MBA is the first Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School, the first African American woman to hold a Deanship at Harvard Medical School, and a noted expert in medical and scientific workforce diversity issues. In 2007, Dr. Reede and her colleague Emorcia V. Hill, PhD, received a grant from the Macy Foundation for nearly $1 million to establish a Center for the Study of Diversity in Science and within the Office for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School. The resulting entity, called Converge, has worked ever since to address the paucity of knowledge about what works when it comes to programs designed to increase diversity in the health care and science workforce.

Although the United States is becoming an increasingly diverse nation, there remain serious gaps in the number of underrepresented minorities working in medicine and science.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the Latino population is set to double by 2020, yet today there are roughly 3,000 Latinos per Latino doctor; African Americans account for about 12% of the national population, but account for only 4% of doctors today.  Converge helps address these challenges by helping develop and promote strategies to diversify the national workforce.

Converge does this by building knowledge around diversity in medicine and science and what works in making that a reality, in part by conducting original research; disseminating research and lessons learned; serving as a place to convene experts and provide a forum for dialogue and deliberation; and building capacity to make workforce diversity a reality.

Dr. Reede recently reflected on how Converge is promoting workforce diversity.

Q: Why is it so important to systematically evaluate whether efforts to enhance diversity in the health professions are working?

Dr. Reede:
We established Converge to provide a forum where leaders from across a wide variety of disciplines could share evidence about what works and does not work to recruit, retain, and advance underrepresented minorities in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.  This project has enabled us to build a stronger evidence base to help us more effectively assess what we’re doing.  Before Converge, the space to talk about these issues across disciplines was lacking.

Q:  What was the impetus of this approach?

Dr. Reede:  The grant grew out of the realization that you had to bring stakeholders from different vantage points, including funders, program developers, social science researchers, policymakers, and academics, to engage in a way they hadn’t been able to before.  When it comes to issues of diversity, you often have one group of people offering solutions and another group putting them into practice. This grant grew out of the realization that we needed to foster cross-disciplinary discussions.  Fast-changing demographics, economic challenges, as well as the effects of globalization – are all factors affecting how we foster workforce diversity.  We need to be planning for the future because our country is becoming more diverse. Having a dedicated space to focus on important topics and to share and challenge perspectives has been both invaluable and intellectually stimulating.  It has also enabled new partnerships for promoting diversity in science and medicine.

Q: Why have a center devoted to this issue in the first place?

Dr. Reede: One of our goals has been to create a new framework in which diversity in science is embedded in everything we do – in our teaching, research and service.  Historically, diversity and increasing minority individuals pursuing careers in medicine and science have been viewed as add-on considerations.  We’re saying that diversity inclusion needs to be an integral part of how we approach medicine and biomedical science because of its broad implications for the workforce and human capital.  It’s not just an extra effort.  It is part of the fabric of who we are.  Diversity, equity, and social justice are also tied to the country’s economic viability.  If we do not capture the potential of our best and brightest, if we leave behind the talent that exists across all populations, then ultimately we all lose out.
Q: What is Converge and what is it doing to foster this mission?

Dr. Reede: Converge, for which Macy provided initial funding, has undertaken a number of activities to expand a knowledge base on diversity in biomedical and behavioral sciences.  Converge is attempting to assemble, catalogue, and index thousands of resources on this topic and its work has led to new inter- and cross-disciplinary work to frame the issue of diversity and inclusion.  While there have been many programs created to enhance diversity in the health professions, few of these programs have been fully   evaluated or studied to determine their success or failure.  We hope through our efforts we can shed light on what and how programs work, create a database that is broadly available, and showcase lessons and best practices that can guide others. Ultimately, we want to be a resource for researchers, policymakers and practitioners interested in increasing workforce diversity. 

Q: The Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Converge, addresses the success of programs designed to increase minority presence in the biomedical workforce.  Why is it so important to measure success?

Dr. Reede:  Understanding what works was clearly a vacuum that needed to be filled.  Funders, policy makers and others were asking for it. Macy has been involved and concerned with issues of diversity long before this grant and in some ways it makes sense that an organization that has been committed to diversity, equity, and justice is the same organization that helped create the foundation we needed to move forward in this next century.  If you think about where discussions in medicine and biomedicine are today – everything is evidence based.  The same should hold true for how we approach efforts to integrate diversity in these areas.

To read more about Converge and its work, please visit



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