Over the course of the past year, ICO has been undertaking a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative to evaluatewhere we are at and to find areas where we can do better.
During the pandemic, the community ICO serves has been heavily and disproportionately affected. Daily, we serve a vulnerable population of patients. The pandemic only served to highlight that fact. In turn, it helped remind us to deepen our commitment to educate ourselves and our students, to equip them to the best of our abilities and to provide the care our community needs. Our very community has provided a rich classroom where we can actualize our commitment to equity in healthcare.
As ICO alums, you and I have benefitted from our incredible patient base. For those of us who didn’t come from large urban settings, ICO may have been our first real encounter with the effects poverty and social inequities can have on the health and well-being of individuals. These patients became powerful teachers for us, both in educating us about various co-morbidities and ocular manifestations of systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes and in
humanizing the cases for us. We had the chance to look into their eyes and see the failures of systems and structures that placed them at a disadvantage. From lack of access to quality health care to balancing precarious financial situations that challenge how they manage their health care concerns. Every one of these patients taught us something about diversity, equity and inclusion; and I would venture, if we reflect, they also taught us something about ourselves.
Each of these patients also taught us that we do not have to accept these structures as unchangeable, as simply the “way things are.” DEI work is something we have to consciously commit to in all that we do. We all have particular contexts that affect who we are and what we do. We all need to be willing to take the time to learn about one another.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to creating lasting change. It may take years to see the fruits of our labors, and yet, that doesn’t mean we don’t do our part to contribute to the changes we want to see in our world. This pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms that the disparity in health outcomes has gone on far too long.
Our work and learning about DEI will help us better attract students from all different types of backgrounds and help them to embrace their differences and channel their strengths into becoming the best optometrists possible. DEI does NOT in any way mean lowering standards. In fact, we must maintain and elevate standards so that we are attracting and graduating doctors of optometry who are well-equipped to serve their diverse communities. We know that our patients deserve the very best care possible and that includes meeting them where they are in their own DEI journeys as well. We recognize the privilege we have in serving our community and the way in which they have helped us to continue to strive to be the best at what we do.
Mark K. Colip, OD ’92