Weill Cornell Medicine Wins Fifth Annual HEED Award for Diversity and Inclusion

image of diverse people in a crowd.

Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded the Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for the fifth year in a row, recognizing the institution’s exceptional commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

INSIGHT Into Diversity, the largest and oldest diversity-centered publication in higher education, plans to highlight the award winners in its December issue. The HEED Award is presented annually to U.S. health professional schools and other medical organizations that exemplify outstanding leadership in diversity and inclusion.

“We are thrilled to win the HEED Award again this year, reflecting our continued and growing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion across the institution for students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Linnie M. Golightly, associate dean of diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We remain grateful for our dean’s steadfast support and leadership, and our collaborations with academic leaders and numerous department and division heads.”

Weill Cornell Medicine’s long history of promoting diversity and inclusion began in 1969 when it established strategic programs and policies to promote diversity in science and medicine. Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, elevated diversity and inclusion as a crucial pillar of the institution’s mission after being appointed dean in 2017. Since then, Weill Cornell Medicine has undertaken several institutional initiatives to address health disparities in underrepresented populations, including establishing the Cornell Center for Health Equity in 2018.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be recognized for our initiatives over the past year for advancing diversity, inclusion and engagement,” said Fanesse George, assistant director of staff diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Diversity and inclusion are critical to our culture and organization. Our programs aim to make every person in our community feel welcome, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, background or religion.”

Weill Cornell Medicine has implemented a range of diversity and inclusion initiatives, including continuing monthly Diversity Town Halls first introduced in 2020 in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-racism movement. Numerous forums provide community members with opportunities to discuss social justice issues and hear about solutions for meaningful change from leaders on topics such as unpacking the Asian American experience, improving disability inclusion in the biomedical workforce and psychological safety. Other spaces, like the Staff Equity and Inclusion Council, have served as a central place for staff to connect with each other and foster a culture of inclusion in departments.

The institution also held its fourth annual Diversity Week in late April. This year’s celebration included more than 40 virtual, in-person and hybrid events and activities that promoted diversity and explored ways to address healthcare disparities and ensure equitable care. Sessions included two keynote lectures, Diversity Grand Rounds and conversations with experts on topics suggested by the community. During the annual Celebration of Diversity eight Weill Cornell Medicine faculty, trainees, students and staff received awards for their exemplary contributions to mentorship, community service and advocacy. Four fellows and faculty members received Ritu Banga Healthcare Disparity Research awards. These awards were endowed through a generous $5 million gift from Ritu Banga and her husband, Board of Fellows member Ajay Banga. They support research that will ultimately lead to improvements in the health of women and underrepresented minorities and reduce health disparities in health care systems and in clinical settings.

The institution also advanced programs to support its faculty and students. Five Weill Cornell Medicine faculty members received research funding from the Pilot Grant Program of the Weill Cornell Medicine Mastercard Diversity-Mentorship Collaborative in early April. The collaborative, established with a $5 million grant from The Mastercard Impact Fund in 2021, supports a range of diversity and inclusion programs including the development of a mentoring curriculum, the establishment of a faculty diversity incentive program and competitive career development awards for junior faculty from underrepresented in medicine (URM) populations and those with childcare commitments, often female faculty.

For this year’s incoming doctoral and medical school classes, 44 percent and 28 percent of students, respectively, are from underrepresented groups as defined by the National Institutes of Health. Weill Cornell Medicine also continued the successful debt-free tuition program. Launched in 2019, the program provides full scholarships to all medical students who qualify for financial aid. The program ensures that all students, including those from economically diverse backgrounds, can pursue a medical education without financial burden.

The HEED award also recognizes Weill Cornell Medicine’s pipeline programs for nurturing students from underrepresented backgrounds into medicine and science. The annual SPARC Jr. Conference brought high school and undergraduate students together to learn about mentorship and engage in professional development and networking activities. Additionally, the annual Tri-I SPARC Diversity Retreat provided members of the Tri-I community (Weill Cornell Medicine, The Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) with valuable advice on promoting their careers in medicine and science.

The High School Catalyst Program, a partnership between the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Postdoctoral Association and the HYPOTHEkids New York Bioforce Program, provided seven New York high school students with a seven-week biomedical research experience, including preparing and presenting a short research proposal. The Tri-I Minority Society’s Summer Scholars Research Program, led by graduate students, provided research opportunities to New York City-based undergraduate students who aspire to careers in biomedicine. During the 11-week program, participants engaged in full-time research, professional development sessions and an introductory bioinformatics course.

Weill Cornell Medicine also resumed the 54-year-old Travelers Summer Research Fellowship in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The program brought 29 undergraduate students from underrepresented and financially disadvantaged backgrounds to campus for an immersive experience in clinical, basic or translational science.

“We are exceedingly proud of the work that has led to this year’s award,” said Dr. Yazmin Carrasco, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine. “At the same time, we are energized and excited to expand our initiatives and programs in the future. When we create a welcoming environment for everyone and encourage diverse perspectives, creativity and productivity increase for students, faculty and staff and the benefits translate to improved patient care.”

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