Our Commitment to Equity

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The following message was sent to faculty, trainees, and staff in the Department of Medicine via This Week in Medicine, a weekly internal newsletter.

By Kathleen Cooney, MD, and Laura Svetkey, MD, MHS


Our country and our community are feeling deep pain in response to the senseless and tragic recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. We are grappling with and reacting to the ongoing racial inequity in the justice system and the implicit and explicit racism in our society at large. This tension has heightened in the midst of the terrible toll of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also highlighted long-known racial disparities in health care.

You have likely read the strong messages from our Dean, University President, Chancellor, and Hospital President. Each message calls for a renewed commitment to equity and acknowledgement of the “ongoing history of structural and sustained racism [as] a fundamental and deeply distressing injustice, here as elsewhere” (President Price). We must acknowledge that our health system is not exempt from historical, structural, and systemic racial bias that results from centuries of inequity.

These messages from our leaders help us see that we are part of a great institution that is striving to “bring the power of our research, education, and health care missions to expose and correct the underlying forces at the root of these injustices,” (Dean Klotman), even when that means facing hard truths and making difficult decisions. We can take strength – and bolster our commitment – from being part of this institution.

As Chair of Medicine and Vice Chair for Faculty Development and Diversity, we pledge to do our part. With the help of the DOM Civility Champions and the DOM Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee, and in consultation with Duke’s REACH Equity disparities research center, we will do the hard work required to understand where historical, structural, and systemic racial bias negatively influences our missions and our people, and to find ways to make changes to the systems where bias may permeate. We hope you will join us, and we welcome your input in the coming weeks and months.

There is much work to be done throughout our society, and many of you are making significant contributions to equity in other areas. In our DOM roles, we urge you to join us in heeding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s implied call to action: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Dr. Cooney is chair of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Svetkey is vice chair for faculty development and diversity.