Reshaping the conversation about diversity

Marc Nivet, Deborah Plummer, AAMC, diversity

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

April 25, 2011


Marc Nivet, EdD

No institution wants to think of itself as less than excellent. But that’s exactly what the recent conversation between Marc Nivet, EdD, chief diversity officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, and Deborah L. Plummer, PhD, associate vice chancellor for diversity and equal opportunity, challenged leaders of American medical schools to do. According to Dr. Nivet, no institution can claim excellence without being diverse. 

Nivet was invited to campus by Dr. Plummer as the first guest in the Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series, which, if the inaugural event on March 30 is any gauge, will prove to be a thought-provoking and well-attended series. The discussion was led by Plummer, who asked Nivet questions about what real diversity means and about how academic medical centers can get there.

Nivet had high praise for UMMS and its institutional commitment to reaching diversity, citing the 2009 recognition, with clinical partner UMass Memorial Health Care, by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a community-engaged campus. 

But, according to Nivet, the conversation about diversity needs to shift away from talking about the issue in terms of reaching certain numbers, to a conversation about how diversity feeds excellence. Or, put another way, what role diversity and inclusion play in every medical school’s journey to achieve its mission. 

Saying that the AAMC is good at many things, Nivet said, “We have not been as intelligent about diversity as we have been about everything else we do.” He calls thinking of achieving diversity as reaching some set of prescribed numbers a “logical trap” because there is no right number, and said that institutions need to instead ask themselves why they want diversity, and what the quantitative benefit of achieving it is. “Most medical schools talk about advancing health care in their missions,” said Nivet. “For me, that means eliminating health disparities.” 

In his leadership role in crafting the AAMC’s guidance and resources for helping medical schools achieve diversity, Nivet advocates for putting everything on the table—from how medical schools recruit and evaluate prospective students to the way they incorporate cultural competency into the curriculum and the resources they develop for students who might excel in areas other than MCAT scores. 

The event marked the opening of the Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series, sponsored by the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office. The next installment of the series will be in the fall. 

Related link: 

Achieving excellence through diversity