Diversity makes strong case, surgical guest says

Dr. Turner at microphone
Dr. Turner's May 28 talk, “The Importance of Training a Diverse Surgical Workforce,” addressed the challenges and opportunities of the coming years.

By Patrick Wascovich

Dr. Patricia L. Turner, Director of the Division of Member Services at the American College of Surgeons, says medicine needs to embrace the emerging norm of the corporate workplace.

“Every Fortune 500 company has diversity as part of its mission statement,” she said. “In all instances, the whole is more than the sum of parts.”

Dr. Turner was the guest speaker of the Department of Surgery’s Grand Rounds at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Her May 28 talk, “The Importance of Training a Diverse Surgical Workforce,” addressed the challenges and opportunities of the coming years.

“Diversity is a solution, not a problem,” she said. “It ensures that every patient has the opportunity to achieve the highest health outcome.”

The diversity Dr. Turner addressed includes race and gender, but also cuts across generational issues, economic and geographical differences, sexual orientation, and societal beliefs. If used constructively, she said, the different skills individual team members possess strengthen the group.

“We now have four generations [Silent, Baby Boomers, X, and Y] actively working together,” Dr. Turner pointed out. “Each has different skills, experiences, problem-solving expertise, and challenges they have addressed and overcome.”

A superb clinician, educator, communicator, and advocate for her patients and for women and underrepresented minorities in surgery, Dr. Turner also is a leading voice for postgraduate education reform and for research in the organized medicine arena.

Able to translate complex medical information into easily understandable language, she has become increasingly familiar in medical media outlets, providing expertise and commentary for health-related segments on “ABC News” and “Good Morning America.

Dr. Turner also serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University. For the past eight years, Dr. Turner was in full time academic practice, and was the Surgery Program Director at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  She is currently a delegate to the American Medical Association from the American College of Surgeons, and is a member of the AMA Council on Medical Education.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, Dr. Turner completed her surgery internship and residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She completed fellowship training in minimally invasive and laparoscopic surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Weill-Cornell University School of Medicine, and Columbia University School of Medicine.

Dr. Michael Choti, Chair of Surgery, said Dr. Turner’s visit was valuable to help promote change through education.

“As with any high-performing organization, I think it is very important to have diversity in a surgical department,” he said. “And by diversity I’m referring to even beyond that of gender and race. It should also include diversity of culture, of training, of age. This variety brings with it new ideas, new views, and improves engagement within the faculty and the surgical team.

“Teaching about diversity is as important as other didactic topics in surgery. We are now seeing more and more variety within our health system, our trainees, and our faculty, so it’s important to provide a spectrum of role models.”

Nationally, institutional diversity also will have to be embraced among academic medical centers, Dr. Turner said. In 2012, the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a 30 percent increase in graduating medical students by 2025. Of those, only 58 percent are projected to graduate from schools accredited by the AAMC prior to 2002, with an additional 25 percent coming from schools accredited more recently, and another 17 percent matriculating from schools still in the applicant or candidate status.

“These students will need to match into residency programs, as well as the 7,000 international students graduating each year,” she said. “But embracing our differences makes a difference. Diversity within groups leads to what has been called collective intelligence. And local information shared is additive, indeed, it’s multiplicative.”

Institutional progress typically is made through three steps, Dr. Turner said. First, there are isolated efforts to remove entrenched processes; then there are peripheral efforts in parallel with achieving excellence; and lastly, there is an integral core component required to reach excellence.

Dr. Choti, recruited to UT Southwestern in 2013 after more than two decades of surgical leadership at Johns Hopkins University, quickly articulated a four-pronged vision, including the development of more emphasis on serving the community and region. Again, Dr. Turner’s presentation reinforced this departmental roadmap, Dr. Choti said.

“Diversity is of value to any high-performing institution,” he said. “But we here at UT Southwestern particularly serve a community which is more diverse than many other regions. The introduction of diversity to education, to clinical care, to decision-making, strengthens the quality of the organization, and a diverse surgical workforce at UT Southwestern will help us serve our patients better.”


Dr. Choti holds the Hall and Mary Lucile Shannon Distinguished Chair in Surgery.