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Committee Spotlight: A Q&A With The Diversity Committee

(L-R) Drs. Chantal Pyram-Vincent, MD' 05 & David Sanchez, MD' 96, Co-Chairs, Diversity Committee

The Diversity Committee has been in the works for some time. Why was it important that the committee come together now?

CPV: Amidst the pandemic and racial turmoil the country was experiencing, the driving factor that pushed the formation of the Committee was the students. The President of the Alumni Association, Dr. Daniel Beckles, as well as the rest of the Board of Managers saw the need to create this Committee to address the needs of the medical students based on their call to action for improving equity and inclusion in the medical school and community. As a Committee of the Alumni Association, we had to address the issues at hand using our resources.

DS: The COVID-19 pandemic served to expose the vast socioeconomic & healthcare inequalities that already existed in communities of color. Taken in conjunction with the instances of police brutality, systemic racism & violence experienced by Black & Brown people in this country over recent years, it was important to strike while the proverbial iron was hot and finally begin to address many of the issues and concerns that have been affecting students of color for decades while the school and administration is paying attention.

The response to the Speaker Series has been amazing. What do you hope students gain from this time with alumni?

CPV: I hope the Speaker Series show the students how vast the alumni network at SUNY Downstate is. I hope they listen to the speakers not just for advice on how to obtain a residency spot into these specialties, but to look at the different avenues they may pursue within each specialty. And a key factor mentioned by most of the panelists is once the students THINK they have an interest in the specialty, reach out to the clinical department for mentors and opportunities to strengthen their application.

DS: My hope is that not only will students gain the necessary insight into the specialties that have been highlighted, thereby making them better prepared to apply to and enter into these fields, but also allow them to make connections with alum, which may, among other things, lead to mentorship and/or research opportunities that will help bolster their résumés.

What is the best piece of advice you can provide for current Downstate students?

CPV: I would advise the students 2 things. One is to pursue each academic block and clinical rotation as if they want to specialize in that area. It serves many purposes in that it encourages people within the field that already love it to teach you more because you are interested; you will actually learn the information and your scores will be more competitive regardless of the specialty you ultimately choose. The second piece of advice is to use your network at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and ask for help, in whatever capacity you need it.

DS: Strive for excellence by giving maximum effort at all times and always putting your best foot forward. Control what you can control and try not to get bogged down or preoccupied with things that you can’t. And, when needed, don’t be afraid to ask for help from alum, faculty and staff. You may often be surprised by who your allies are or from which unexpected source assistance is provided.

There is a difference between equality and equity. Why is it important that the Diversity Committee provide the latter?

CPV: The Diversity Committee acknowledges that equality still leaves underrepresented minorities medicine at a disadvantage, because they are not starting at the same baseline as their peers. Equity allows all students to reach their potential, dependent on various levels of support needed. This is why the Diversity Committee decided to pursue initiatives with the URM students, to be expanded to all students later, including the mentorship program, Speaker Series and mock interviews.

DS: Equity recognizes that people are born into a variety of circumstances and that treating everyone equally is ineffective at helping those who are disadvantaged. Only by meeting people where they are and addressing the unique struggles that they (and their communities) face can we hope to combat inequality. The Diversity Committee’s focus on equity means providing resources and mentorships to students of color in a way that is not a one-size-fits-all response.

What do you hope the impact of the committee will be?

CPV: I hope the Committee will impact current students and allow them to realize the support they have from the Alumni Association, our alumni network and faculty at SUNY Downstate. Hopefully, this will cause them to stay connected to the institution and assist other students as well.

DS: I hope that all of the Committee’s undertakings (Speaker Series, Mentorship Program, Mock Interviews, etc) will serve to foster an enduring connection between the current Downstate students and alumni of color so that the students understand that they are not alone and there are many others who came before them who have successfully navigated the obstacles that invariably arise along the medical school journey.

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