null An opportunity to learn, celebrate and connect during Black History Month at the RI-MUHC

An expert panel explored Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in research and healthcare

March 14, 2024

"We need to ensure that the health system is malleable, that it is adaptable to the unique needs, nuances, and the stories of our patients and the scientists that we have within our institutions. So, until we embrace that as excellence, then I guess we'll have to have Black History Month every month."

— Nicholas Hickens, panelist

To celebrate Black History Month, the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) community convened on February 20, 2024, for a panel discussion entitled "Let's Learn, Celebrate, and Connect!" The gathering aimed to explore themes of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in research and healthcare, focusing on incorporating Black perspectives, addressing barriers, creating connections, and celebrating accomplishments year-round. Discussions centred on strategies for empowering communities, promoting social justice, and ensuring culturally sensitive research practices.

Organized by the RI-MUHC Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee, the event was co-hosted by Nitika Pant Pai, MD, PhD, a scientist in the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health (IDIGH) Program at the RI-MUHC, and Diego Herrera, PhD, the RI-MUHC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist.

(From left to right) Loydie Jerome-Majewska, Momar Ndao, Nicholas Hickens, and Sacha Williams
(From left to right) Loydie Jerome-Majewska, Momar Ndao, Nicholas Hickens, and Sacha Williams

The expert panel included Loydie Jerome-Majewska, PhD, senior scientist in the Child Health and Human Development (CHHD) Program, RI-MUHC, and co-founder of the Canadian Black Scientists Network; Momar Ndao, DVM, MSc, PhD, scientist in the IDIGH Program, RI-MUHC; Nicholas Hickens, M.Sc. trainee in the IDIGH Program; and Sacha Williams, MD, MS, MPH, PhD(c), trainee in the CHHD Program.

Dr. Rhian Touyz, Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer of the RI-MUHC, delivered an opening speech to approximately 50 people, who attended both in person and online. Dr. Touyz emphasized the integration of EDI components into all research programs, reaffirming the institution's commitment to representing all groups and their realities in research and treatments. She also referred to the RI-MUHC’s continued support for Black and racialized trainees through initiatives such as the Fiera Capital Awards for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Health Care Research for racialized and Indigenous students, and applauded the recent approval of the RI-MUHC’s updated EDI Action Plan from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé.

Moderator Diego Herrera introduced a video offering a preview of the upcoming internal training course, "Let's Be Allies." Featuring a hypothetical scenario highlighting the challenges faced by racialized research team members, the video set the stage for an engaging discussion.

Roadblocks and how to address them

The discussion began with Dr. Pant Pai posing a direct question: “How does the experience of a Black scientist in healthcare differ from that of privileged groups, and what obstacles need to be addressed to improve that experience?”

Prof. Jerome-Majewska said she felt fortunate for the support and opportunities she has had in her career. She mentioned that her successes were sometimes attributed to her identity rather than her abilities. “I hope this panel will help people understand that Black people shouldn't have to be ‘more’; we should be able to be normal,” she said.

Dr. Ndao stressed the need for greater diversity in decision-making committees, emphasizing the importance of having people of colour in leadership roles. While noting progress, he emphasized the ongoing need for inclusive efforts to foster belonging for young Black individuals. Based on his observations, Black scientists often need to work harder than other demographic groups to prove their qualifications. This added rigour leads to success, while also placing an additional burden on the Black community.

EDI from Black scientists’ perspectives

Dr. Williams emphasized that EDI goes beyond racial diversity, encompassing sexual orientation, gender, and other identities. She highlighted the historical exclusion of groups like pregnant women from clinical trials, which created risks for this population in critical times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. She stressed the importance of including diverse groups in research and creating space for diverse voices at the table.

In the same vein, Nicholas Hickens urged listeners to view EDI as a lens through which research is conducted and evaluated. This lens should lead to a critical examination of research practices, particularly regarding how they address the issues disadvantaged groups face. “EDI needs to be a transformative approach from the outset of research processes,” he stressed.

From Prof. Jerome-Majewska’s viewpoint, research should benefit society as a whole, not just a specific group. “Researchers must consider who is conducting the research, who is participating, and how the results are shared. Since research often involves public funding, everyone, regardless of background, should be able to understand and benefit from the research findings,” she said.

Key messages for scientists and administrators

The panelists emphasized the importance of transparency in promotion criteria and credit allocation, advocating for clear guidelines in evaluation. They also stressed the need to listen actively to the experiences of Black and racialized individuals to create more inclusive research environments. Given the impact of administrators' and researchers' actions on others, members of the RI-MUHC were urged to become informed and committed allies in the fight against systemic injustices.

Nicholas Hickens highlighted the need for healthcare professionals to be aware of power dynamics and interact humbly with patients and communities. He emphasized that access to patient data is a privilege. He advocated for giving communities more autonomy and a voice in research initiatives. “Inclusive research builds trust, inclusivity, and addresses community trauma,” he said.

Dr. Ndao wrapped up the session with an emphatic message for the new generation of young researchers, mentioning the importance of self-belief and hard work. “I recommend to think big!” he said. “Never give up on your goals. As Obama said, ‘Yes you can!’ You are capable!”

On February 28, the RI-MUHC EDI Committee also offered a celebration of Black culture. The theatre play M’apelle Mohamed Ali (from Théâtre de la sentinelle) and a concert by Kabey Konate and the Farafina Roots opened a dialogue to understand additional challenges of Black people and to celebrate the richness of their culture.

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