Q&A with Chemen Neal, MD, Executive Associate Dean for Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
What is the Clinician Cluster Recruitment Initiative?
The Clinician Cluster Recruitment Initiative invests in the career and professional development of faculty from historically underrepresented groups in medicine. It is a four-year initiative that will help IU School of Medicine recruit 20 faculty who come from communities that have been historically underrepresented in medicine and who share lived experiences with people in Indiana who are facing health disparities.
Why was this initiative developed?
Health care disparities signal that the whole ship of health care is sinking. Underserved communities are going to experience a crisis more severely, but it’s an indicator that the whole system needs change and innovation. We need to create additional diversity in our leadership infrastructure so different minds can come together to fix these big problems in health care. And we’re really trying to do that in Indiana.
There are tremendous heath care disparities in our state, particularly in areas like cardiovascular health, maternal and infant mortality, and mental health care. Health care systems with more diversity have better quality and patient outcomes, and increasing the number of diverse providers available to our communities has been shown to improve health in those communities. We want all of our communities to be healthy.
How does this initiative fit into the 2030 Strategic Plan?
The IU School of Medicine Strategic Plan aligns with IU Health’s strategic plan. The health system has identified targeted areas they’re trying to impact—cardiovascular health, maternal and infant health, and mental health. So, we are prioritizing those specialties in recruiting for this program.
Another goal of the IU School of Medicine Strategic Plan is to match the demographics of our learners, trainees and faculty to the state demographics. Right now, we are behind in that area. Our student demographics are very diverse, but we are missing faculty to match those demographics. Around 23% of our students in the last class were from communities that are historically underrepresented in medicine. However, the percentage of full-time faculty who come from underrepresented communities is about 8%. So, there is a gap. Students often want mentors who have come from similar backgrounds, and for the relatively small number of URM faculty who are here, that puts a big tax on them for mentorship—there are just not enough of them.
Who is a good candidate for this program?
Since it’s a career development initiative, it is for people who are just starting in their career or pivoting in their career and want to be in academic medicine. Our priority specialties are internal medicine, cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine and psychiatry. However, any clinical specialty is eligible to apply to help increase our overall faculty diversity.
How is this initiative different from other faculty development programs?
This initiative is for newly hired faculty. Current faculty are welcome to apply to the LAMP and PLUS faculty development programs, which are also part of this program. IU School of Medicine has a phenomenal faculty development office, and this initiative will only enhance those efforts.
What makes the cluster recruitment program unique is we’re clustering these new hires into groups of five each year over the next four years for a total of 20 new faculty. They will be in different specialties and pursuing different career development tracks, but they will be together in our coaching program and will also do LAMP and PLUS together. One of the reasons cluster recruitment initiatives are so successful is that they create a sense of community and a strong network, which guards against burnout and increases retention.
What career development tracks can participants pursue as part of this program?
There are currently four career development tracks: clinician educator, health systems leadership, health informatics, and the Center for Inclusive Excellence Leadership Fellow program. We are adding a clinician scientist track very soon and looking to add development in integrative and lifestyle medicine as well.
A goal of the initiative is to develop leaders in our system. So, we’re not just saying to these candidates, “Hey, bring us your experiences and expertise,” we are also giving something back to them. Participants will be part of a longitudinal executive coaching program that was created in partnership with faculty at Kelley School of Business. So, let’s say someone wants to become a health care administrator. They can get an MBA, and we will cover the cost of that for them. If they’re interested in student affairs or health informatics, we have degree options for that. And if they don’t want another degree, they can be a fellow in the Center for Inclusive Excellence, where they can partner with a mentor to do a high-impact project.
How will the Clinician Cluster Hiring Initiative ultimately improve the health and wellness of the people of Indiana?
Representation matters in health care. There is a 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows the impact of having a Black primary care provider in a certain ZIP code. They found that if you increase the number of Black primary care providers by just 10% in a ZIP code, it increases the life expectancy of Black people in that ZIP code by 30 days. That is very compelling. Even though that one Black provider could not have seen all Black patients, their presence impacted the entire community. The study also showed that Black-white disparities in health outcomes were diminished in those ZIP codes. It confirms things we see in other studies showing that if you have more diversity in your system, you will have better health outcomes for everyone.
How can someone apply or be nominated for this initiative?
Candidates may apply on the Clinician Cluster Recruitment Initiative website. They may also be nominated. So, if you know of someone who might be a good candidate, submit a nomination, and we will reach out to tell them about the program.
We are really looking to invest in people, and that is unique. Not all institutions are doing that. We want to help people create meaningful, fulfilling careers so they stay in academic medicine.