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Weill Cornell Medicine receives $2.7M grant for Diversity Center of Excellence

Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a four-year, $2.7 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to establish a Diversity Center of Excellence dedicated to increasing the number of minority physicians in academic medicine.

The HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is administering the grant through its Centers of Excellence program. Established in 1991, the program supports health professions schools that strive to train and retain underrepresented minority students and faculty. Weill Cornell Medicine is one of only 19 graduate schools across the country, and the only medical school in New York state, to receive the grant.

“Our population is becoming more diverse, but our health care professional population hasn’t kept up,” said Dr. Susana Morales, associate professor of clinical medicine and co-principal investigator of the grant. “Here at Weill Cornell Medicine, we are committed to increasing diversity. This grant is exciting not only because there’s potential to do a lot of good, it also allows us to be a part of the institution’s larger diversity efforts.”

Weill Cornell Medicine’s Diversity Center of Excellence will operate under the auspices of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, which was established at Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell’s Ithaca campus in March to better understand why health outcomes vary among demographic groups.

“The Diversity Center of Excellence is a crucial piece of our Cornell Center for Health Equity strategic plan and we are thrilled to see it coming to fruition,” said Dr. Monika Safford, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, the John J. Kuiper Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-principal investigator of the grant.

The Diversity Center of Excellence will focus on a number of initiatives and priorities that strive to increase the number of minorities in health care. Using a longitudinal approach, the center will seek to nurture minority talent at all career levels. Center leaders plan to expand Weill Cornell Medicine’s middle school, high school and undergraduate pipeline programs with the goal of doubling the number of minority medical school applicants within three years. Morales and her team will have a particular focus nurturing underrepresented Cornell pre-medical students, working closely with Avery August, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and vice provost for academic affairs at Cornell.

“The presence of this Diversity Center of Excellence within the Cornell Center for Health Equity is a testament to Cornell’s commitment to ‘... any person ... any study,’ and complements our ongoing efforts to continuing to diversify not only who we teach and train at Cornell, but also who teaches and does the training,” August said.

The center will also enhance programs that support minority trainees and physicians at all stages of their professional development, from medical school to residencies and fellowships to faculty appointments. To accomplish this, the center will work in collaboration with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Diversity and Student Life, Diversity Council and other diversity programs at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Mentorship will be a key priority of the new center, which will facilitate mentoring opportunities at every level, from pre-medical students to medical students, residents and faculty members. “I believe everybody needs at least one mentor,” Morales said. “Even peer-to-peer mentoring has value in terms of helping you navigate your career path.”

In addition, the Center of Excellence will sponsor an annual health equity premedical conference; establish mentoring programs; build community partnerships; create a Scholars in Health Equity program to encourage faculty to integrate health disparities into their courses; and offer training in health equity research.

“The big question is, how do we get more underrepresented people in medicine into academic positions, and how do we retain them so they thrive and move through the pipeline,” said Dr. Linnie Golightly, associate dean of diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Receiving this grant is wonderful news and a great first step. It shows the world that we are serious about diversity and have been deemed a competitive player by the federal government.”

Molly Schulson is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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