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Championing Diversity in Ophthalmology: Moran’s EDI Initiatives

Joining hands

The John A. Moran Eye Center has always been committed to the vision that no person with a blinding condition, eye disease, or visual impairment should be without hope, under­standing, and treatment.

Internally, Moran is equally committed to reaching and embracing a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse population when recruiting and training residents and hiring faculty and staff. Moran strives to create a broad-based organization focused on clinical care, caregiver education, and basic and translational research.

As Moran’s inaugural Vice-Chair for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), Liliana Werner, MD, PhD, leads this effort with a committee of five other representatives.

“EDI is important for various reasons in any organization, including those related to moral or social justice, economic and market reasons,” said Werner. “In addition to addressing historical factors that have led to unfair conditions for minorities, organiza­tions that tap into diverse talent pools are stronger and more efficient and much better at serving their customers by reflecting the diversity of their market base.”

Disparities in Diseases and Access to Care

Racial and ethnic disparities are particularly significant in eye care in the United States. Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, racial and ethnic minorities have a higher prevalence of blindness, higher rates of glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and inability to afford eyeglasses, and lower eye surgery rates.

Studies show having a health care workforce that can relate to individuals of different backgrounds, skin colors, and ethnicities could improve the quality of care.

With this in mind, the committee has elaborated a strong EDI plan that reassesses all of the procedures through which Moran brings people on board, including students, residents, fellows, faculty, and staff.

“In our last round of resident interviews, members of the selection committee had EDI at the core of their process,” noted Werner. “The process will be embedded in all interviews as we move forward.”

Resident-Driven Scholarships

In 2020, third-year residents Christopher Bair, MD, and Bradley Jacobsen, MD, collaborated on a research project to create a scholarship devoted to applicants from groups underrepresented in medicine (URiM). The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines these groups as students who identify as Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and/or Native American (American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian).

“Promoting diversity in medicine is incredibly important and necessary to provide the best care to all people. In developing this scholarship, I give all the credit to the Moran Eye Center and the willingness to recognize and confront the issue head-on,” said Bair.

“Moran is a nationally ranked Top-10 residency, and it would have been easy to continue with the status quo. However, our leadership has been willing to take a critical look at our practices,” he continued. “They’ve allowed us to take the necessary steps to address deficiencies that will improve the landscape for underrepresented candidates at Moran and in eye care overall.”

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed Moran’s first two away-rotation scholarships offering $500 to URiM students. In the future, these scholarships will help medical students in the summer between their first and second years of medical school to experience clinical and surgical training at Moran.

Moran also plans to offer additional $1,000 scholarships to rising second-year medical students with in-depth exposure to ophthalmology early in their education.

National Program Offers One-on-One Mentoring

Moran Retina Fellow Nikko Ronquillo, MD, PhD, has participated in Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring, a partnership program between the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology since 2019.

“I’ve spoken to many students early in their medical school career about ophthalmology,” said Ronquillo. “Being an ambassador for ophthalmology for underrepresented minorities is important to continue to attract these bright students to our field.”

The national program aims to increase diversity in ophthalmology by helping students underrepresented in medicine become competitive residency applicants. Students receive one-on-one mentorship, valuable guidance in medical career planning, networking opportunities, and access to various educational resources.

Ronquillo has mentored individual students and spoke at the Latino Student Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and the Student National Medical Association annual conferences this year.