The Importance of Having a Diverse Medical Team

The Importance of Having a Diverse Medical Team

The age-old saying, “teamwork makes the dream work” rings true in nearly every profession. The medical field is no exception. A diverse medical team breeds success and is vital for patient care. 

Diversity in nearly every profession is essential. In health care, doctors and other health care workers from different cultures and backgrounds bring their unique perspectives to share with colleagues and patients. This helps improve our processes for providing care and helps us be more understanding and responsive to our patients’ needs.” — Dr. Lisa Doggett, a family physician in Austin, Texas. 

Cultural Diversity 

Medicine involves caring for diverse populations and providing care with a team that isn’t diverse can prove to be problematic. The medical field needs to diversify to serve its diverse patient population. Diversity in health care goes far beyond a language barrier. It’s about understanding the mindset of a patient within a broader context of culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic realities.

Recommended Course: Managing a Diverse Medical Team

Corporate Culture

If you’re looking to create a dream team, you’ll need diversity as a vital part of your corporate culture. Rather than hiring based on “fit” — aka “people like us” build a culture where fit means people expand who your practice is. Think about the company you want to build rather than the spots that are open. Getting caught up in the short-term to fill a role with someone that has a functional skill such as project management can be easy to get caught up in. Consider how each team member adds to the overall diversity of approaches and experiences that will help guide the team through growth and change. 

Consider all Diversity Types 

Gender, racial, and ethnic diversity may be visible, but ensuring other kinds of diversity is essential as well. Different diversity types include educational background, geography, economics, family status, disability, sexual preference, gender expression/identity, political inclination, religious affiliation, age, and neuro-diversity (people who may connect the dots differently). 

Using Weaknesses as Strengths 

It’s easy to want to put an employee or co-worker into a box when it comes to your expectations of them. Consider the team member who is always-15-minutes-early – thrust them into a situation where they are working with a free-spirited artist (creative people aren’t usually ones to watch the clock). This particular artist proves that by wandering into work a few minutes most days. Our first instinct is to blame the artist for not keeping a tight schedule or not taking the job seriously. Being on time isn’t everything. It’s possible that the artist’s best ideas happen while listening to music at 3:00 a.m. If so, the artist may have been working hours earlier than her punctual co-worker. When you dive in deep to learn about weaknesses, you can find strengths.

In addition, you can see how different players on the team (diversity in personality types) can contribute in unique ways. Granted, some may be irritating, but everyone has their weaknesses as well as strengths. Strategically applying this information may even enhance a team’s efforts. To learn more about how to create a diverse medical team using personality traits, click here. For instance, you can then dive in to learn about their weaknesses and strengths and have a better idea of who to pair them with and what projects to task them with. 

Leverage Diversity 

It’s not enough to incorporate and learn cultural diversity in the workplace; you have to leverage it. Embrace differences, new perspectives, and different ways of doing things. Followthrough, once you’ve hired, is vital. Having a cross-cultural team presents opportunities for creativity, innovation, and learning from others of a different background. It’s time to start planning and implementing. Cultivating a diverse team doesn’t require additional resources or special skills. Take a critical look at current processes and identify what could be improved.

Team Building Activities 

If you can, allocate time annually for team building sessions or a retreat. Having shared experiences can help connect people outside of work. Retreats allow your team to reignite their passion for your mission. They allow coworkers to let off steam, build trust, and move beyond barriers. 

Between 2011 and 2017, 16 team retreats were attended by 232 interprofessional trainees and 77 unique staff (some attended multiple times). Thirty-seven faculty facilitated. Most participants strongly agreed that they knew their team members better personally and professionally after the retreat (M = 4.7 out of 5, n = 368); 78% of teams (n = 65) submitted SMART goals addressing high-functioning teams. Participants’ comments consistently reflected the benefits of protected time for team building.

Do you feel like your current work environment is diverse enough? Are you looking to create a more diverse medical team? Do you know a few great ways to incorporate cultural diversity best practices? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the author

Ashley Carty

Ashley Carty is a seasoned medical professional with over 8 years of experience working at the top hospitals in Southern California, including Hoag, Saddleback Memorial, and UCSD.

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