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Ophthalmology Team Focuses on Culture of Inclusivity

Date Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2021

“You look like you should be a basketball player.”

“Oh, I was expecting a male doctor.”

“Are you old enough to be a physician?”

As one of the most diverse departments within the UMass Memorial Health system, the physicians and researchers from the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences have first-hand knowledge of the various gender, race, ethnic and age biases that exist in the workplace from both patients and peers alike. The harsh comments they hear, the body language they encounter, and the assumptions that are made – both intentional and unintentional – are not something anyone gets used to. Yet, when witnessing or being the target of discriminatory behavior, most have a tendency to look the other way, to remain politely silent and avoid exacerbating an already-uncomfortable situation.

According to Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham, Founder of Promoting Good, LLC, a consulting firm that leads transformational change processes, and Member of the UMass Memorial Medical Group Board of Trustees, that type of silence oftentimes can do more harm than good. Valerie recently led a faculty development program with the Ophthalmology team in which they discussed the importance of speaking up and the various tactics to address difficult situations.

“This workshop is about creating an environment, a culture, in which everyone can thrive in the workplace,” said Valerie. “There are certain behaviors that impede dialogue, including defensiveness, denial, blame, avoidance and politeness, that we must overcome in order to achieve an environment where people feel safe.”

Valerie stressed the importance of concerns being taken seriously and addressed when they are raised as a first step to creating a culture of safety. She introduced the concept of the Equity Pause™, which teaches people to listen, pause, assess and then act, and to offer feedback in a nonthreatening way. “Feedback should be presented as something that is not confrontational, but rather something that will strengthen a team,” she said. “It’s a gift that helps one another learn.”

“Our goal is to create a culture of respect both within Ophthalmology and throughout our health care system,” said Shlomit Schaal, MD, PhD, MHCM, President of UMass Memorial Medical Group, and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “Everyone needs to understand that aggressions of any kind are not acceptable. As a system, we have Standards of Respect, and everyone is expected to meet those standards. Everyone is welcome and safe here – patients, staff, physicians, residents. And everyone has a voice and will be heard.”