Penn State Health’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion is Grounded in History

Penn State’s football team was scheduled to play the University of Miami on Nov. 29, 1946. At that time, the University of Miami was racially segregated, and Penn State had two Black players. Because of University of Miami’s stance on integration, Penn State would have had to play the game without its two Black players. Penn State felt that no player should be denied the opportunity to play football because of their race. Rather than exclude the Black players, Penn State’s team voted to cancel the game.

This commitment to inclusion and respect lives on at Penn State Health today for our employees, patients and communities. Who we provided care for yesterday is very different from who we will care for tomorrow. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2050, racial and ethnic minority groups will make up more than half of the nation’s population. This will mean that the racial/ethnic profile of our workforce and patient population will change as well. Women currently make up almost half of the nation’s population and more than 70% of our workforce as we continue to strive to increase the representation of women in leadership roles. As an organization, we are also seeing an increase in employees and patients from different religions, military backgrounds, languages and other areas of difference. At Penn State Health, we are committed to providing concrete, proactive services that lead to healthier outcomes for our patients and a more respectful, supportive and productive work environment for our employees.

Our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion Inspires Best Practices for Respect and Inclusion

At Penn State Health, inclusion equals excellence. Therefore, our commitment to excellence is driven by advancing a respectful work and patient care environment. This commitment has led to national recognitions by Forbes, Military Times, the Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index and the Higher Education Excellence Award. 

Our goal is to weave inclusion principles into our daily operations ― advancing an expectation of mutual respect and understanding. Our mission and vision include a commitment to providing culturally responsive care for all patients. We are also committed to mitigating the impact of unconscious bias on patient care, eradicating microaggressions in the workplace and being mindful of how our decisions affect vulnerable and underrepresented populations.   

For employees and patients, this means creating mutual respect between employees and students, care providers and patients, and patients and care providers. To support this expectation, in 2017, Penn State Health became one of the first health care organizations in the country to implement a written policy that states patients and their family members cannot discriminate against any employees of our organization based on aspects of diversity. In addition, the policy provides that patients must also agree that they cannot request a different health care team member based on that individual’s aspect of diversity. This ensures continuity of care and reinforces mutual respect. 

To support employees, we advance our commitment to diversity and inclusion through our zero tolerance for discrimination policy. We operationalize our commitment, at a departmental and location level, through the Penn State Health and College of Medicine Diversity Council, a collective of leaders from clinical, administrative and basic science departments at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center as well as the Penn State Health Medical Group Community Practice Division, which advance measurable diversity initiatives in their departments and locations. 

To support employees and patients from the LGBTQ communities, Penn State Health has established the Sexual and Gender Minority Task Force, a collective of individuals from inside and outside of the organization, to determine best practice strategies for health care and workplace inclusion for sexual and gender minorities. This task force has provided leadership in the establishment of “preferred” names on patient records. The task force’s action plan is available at this link.   

National racial incidents in 2020 brought a renewed focus on race relations to Penn State Health. In June, the organization hosted nine town hall meetings, in addition to two town halls for the college community, to hear from its employees how to advance a more inclusive and respectful work environment. More than 3,000 individuals participated in these town halls, and the recommendations from these town halls are being implemented, with the goal of sustaining the focus on eradicating racism and creating allies against racism.   

Diversifying Our Workforce Means Greater Excellence and Innovation

Our medical centers and practice sites are a microcosm of the broader population, which is becoming increasingly more diverse. Research studies show that a team of diverse individuals creates more innovative ideas, a higher level of service and a greater competitive advantage. As a result, Penn State Health engages in recruitment strategies to attract employees of diverse backgrounds, such as career recruitment fairs and partnerships with diverse organizations, and works to retain those employees. 

Penn State Health was also an early adopter of the “Rooney Rule” for senior leader positions. This protocol, soon policy, ensures diversity at the applicant stage, as required by federal employment regulations, and at the interview level to increase the potential of diverse hires. The implementation of the rule has resulted in successful outcomes: the diversity of our senior leadership team increased from 28% to 36% over a four-year period.

Our goal is to continue to increase the representation of diverse populations that reflect our patients, students and community in our physician ranks, nursing professionals and other care providers.

We also are creating a work environment that supports the full engagement of these individuals through our diverse employee affinity groups. These groups, located at each of our regions, provide an opportunity for employees of similar backgrounds to come together and develop recommendations for how Penn State Health can create more inclusive and supportive environments. The groups are based on similarity of interests or life experiences. Employees who have disabilities, identify as LGBTQ, have served in the military or are from racial/ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to become part of an affinity group. There are also groups for women in medicine and science, those who are Gen Y and Z, and those of different religions.

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Culturally Responsive Care is the Road to Quality and Safety in Patient Care

All new Penn State Health employees participate in an orientation program that includes our organization’s expectations of diversity and inclusion and an expectation that employees provide culturally responsive care as a foundation for patient quality. This message is also communicated to our new clinicians and nurses in their employee orientation programs. In 2016, Penn State Health initiated the Inclusion Academy for Excellence program to provide information on how to care for patients of diverse backgrounds and how to interact more effectively in a diverse work environment. All employees of Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine can take advantage of these sessions to enhance their skills in caring for patients of different backgrounds. Penn State Health also hosts an Inclusion Week during which provocative diversity topics are presented.

Penn State Health also offers its care providers tools to help them better understand the cultural traditions and health care needs of diverse populations. One of these tools is CultureVision, an online resource that provides information about more than 150 cultural groups. Employees from both Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine can access the newsletter of our Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to learn about progress in advancing diversity and inclusion, new developments in addressing the needs of specific populations, and cultural events in the surrounding communities. The newsletter, Inclusion at Penn State Health, is published each quarter.

Penn State Health is also advancing unique programs to support diverse patient populations. For example, the Gender Health Clinic at Penn State Children’s Hospital was opened to provide care for transgender adolescents. The Department of Dermatology at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has established a skin care clinic for patients of color and is developing a skin care program for the transgender community.

Overcoming Health Disparities Improves Health Opportunities for All

Penn State Health recognizes that implementing evidence-based programs that provide health equity for all populations ensures everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life. Our goal is to eliminate health disparities ― differences in health outcomes and their causes ― among various groups of people. This includes seeking diversity in clinical trials and research.

Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine also recognize that research studies which focus on the health care needs of diverse populations is another tool to eliminate racism and other forms of diversity bias. The Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in conjunction with the Vice Dean’s Office for Research and Graduate Studies, established a Race and Research series to discuss research opportunities for Hispanic, Indigenous and Native American, Black and Asian populations.

We are Committed to Being Socially Responsible Citizens by Advancing Supplier Inclusion

Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine recognize the benefits of supporting the economic environment of the communities we serve, so we strive to provide opportunities for businesses that are minority-, women-, veteran- or LGBT-owned. We are committed to identifying these diverse suppliers and businesses and offering them an opportunity to compete and build strong, mutually rewarding relationships. Diverse businesses interested in learning more about opportunities at Penn State Health can contact 717-531 8220.

We Train the Next Generation of Diverse Health Care Providers

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides, as part of its accreditation requirements, that medical schools take steps to increase the diversity of its medical student population as a pipeline to increasing the diversity of the next generation of physicians. This includes providing opportunities for diverse K-12 and undergraduate students to be exposed to medicine as a career through summer enrichment and mentor programs. Penn State College of Medicine has established mechanisms to increase the diversity of its medical students and physician assistant students through early assurance agreements with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as enable undergraduate students at these partner schools to talk, virtually, with our physicians. Penn State College of Medicine is also working to increase the diversity of its graduate student population and its residents. Recently, the college established the Network of Underrepresented Residents and Fellows to provide diverse residents and fellows an opportunity to network and build a sense of community.