Stanford School of Medicine dean discusses increasing diversity in medicine

A man sits and talks on a stage.
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Lloyd Minor, the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, discussed the issue of diversity in the field of health care at a Berkeley Forum event Tuesday night.

Before assuming his current position at Stanford University, Minor served as the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University. He also currently works as a professor of bioengineering, neurobiology and otolaryngology, or head and neck surgery, at Stanford.

Early in his career, Minor conducted research on the vestibular system and inner ear balance mechanisms and became well-known for his discovery of semicircular superior canal dehiscence syndrome, a disorder caused by a hole in the ear bone that helps the body balance itself. In 2010, Minor was awarded the Prosper Ménière Society’s gold medal for his work in refining a treatment for Ménière’s disease, an inner ear condition that can cause vertigo.

In his introduction, Minor shared his preteen experiences from Little Rock, Arkansas, during a period of desegregation in schools. Minor recalled that his first day at Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High as a 13-year-old had a profound impact on his desire to pursue diversity and inclusion in his future career.

“I still remember that first day going into Dunbar Junior High. The banisters were missing from the stairways, plaster was peeling from the walls, the library had very few books, and the books on the lower shelves had had their pages eaten away by rats,” Minor said at the event. “These were the bitter fruits of racial prejudice.”

Minor discussed the importance of what he calls “precision health” at Stanford. While precision medicine is devoted to sick care, the goal of precision health is to predict, prevent and cure. Minor also discussed the significance of social, behavioral and environmental factors in health.

In his presentation, Minor also cited the experiences of Ben Barres and Marcella Alsan, two professors at Stanford University who have influenced diversity in the medical and scientific community. Before his death, Barres wrote about his experiences as a transgender male and strongly advocated for gender equality in the scientific community. Alsan, meanwhile, has conducted studies on the social and behavioral influences of race in the health care field.

“We need a health care professional workforce that reflects the diversity of American society today, and we don’t have it — that’s gotta be an area of focus moving forward,” Minor said at the event.

Though many audience members said they enjoyed the event, some said they had hoped for a more concrete-based discussion on the issue of diversity.

One of these students was campus sophomore Semhar Teklu, who said she felt that the lack of diversity is a driving factor in why many students are afraid of pursuing careers in STEM.

“The reason I came to this event is to see what (Minor) would have to say about diversity in STEM, the medical field and the United States in general. Not trying to be controversial or anything, but I think everything’s just talk, and we’re not really doing a lot of action,” Teklu said. “I still think the talk was very good, but I just wished it was more concrete-based.”

Contact Jenny Weng at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.