Inclusivity that never dies: The future of ACP

ACP's President recaps his tenure as he discusses the College's efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In 2021, ACP adopted four strategic priorities that would govern its decision making and engagement as a professional membership organization: membership growth and engagement; valued professional identity; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and innovation and strategic alignment.

Over the last year, I, along with Thomas G. Cooney, MD, MACP, Chair of the Board of Regents (BOR), have attempted to focus on all the different dimensions of inclusivity, with columns on such topics as looking at DEI, being a “he for she,” meritocracy, the international medical graduate (IMG), racial diversity, health equity, access to care, sexual orientation, and the three “Cs” of health care (corporatization, consolidation, and commodification). Clearly, I have learned much from the exercise, and it is my hope that you, as the reader, have found that these columns offered an opportunity for introspection.

As we stand on the threshold of another changing of the guard, so to speak, for ACP's Officers and Regents, it is only natural to contemplate whether our priorities match our aspirations of being a more inclusive organization. It is a matter of pride that we were among the first medical organizations to declare ourselves antiracist and to place priority on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do, be it our leadership, our committees, our staff, or our work in the community. That inclusivity, while difficult to measure, has translated into a palpable desire to look and feel like our membership, with varying backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, orientations, and strengths.

Our DEI work started in a task force that I was fortunate to be a part of and then transformed into a standing committee of ACP, which continues to forge a path forward with thoughtful imagination. The appointment of an IMG task force to better understand the needs of our IMG members is the latest in fostering that priority of DEI, particularly focusing on inclusivity.

As we continue to prioritize and reform ourselves to remain relevant to the members we serve, our inclusivity efforts have led to a stability and growth in membership and engagement. Specifically, our engagement, our desire to create a big tent that embraces everyone for their diversity and channels the team to surge forward to improve our health care workplace for all of us, is emblematic of our inclusivity.

It is only through such efforts that we shore up our valued professional identity and rekindle the fire that burned passionately in us, driving us to embark on this profession, this specialty, and this role. Our patients take precedence, and we are only complete when our patients are cared for and our colleagues find fulfillment in their professional roles. Restoring the pride in our profession, the meaning in our service, and the joy in our practice is more feasible when we are more inclusive and embracing.

Finally, innovation and strategic alignment are critical because we cannot succeed alone. As a big-tent organization that is multigenerational, we have to innovate to remain relevant across generations and be willing to work with partners in the field to achieve our goals of a better health care system and workplace. In that respect, our inclusivity of varying viewpoints, opinions, backgrounds, and skill sets is critical to our efforts to still be that relevant organization that offers value for membership.

I wrote about the differences between diversity and inclusivity in my November/December 2021 President's Message, saying in part:

“While diversity is easy to measure, inclusivity isn't. Diversity is something an organization can keep statistics on and can audit to assess proportions. … We can monitor trends and create interventions to change those trends. Inclusivity … is an action, a feeling, a mindset, a way of life in our professional or personal perspectives. By that same token, it is not measurable. It's how we act, or the way we speak, or the way we think. It's often internal, easily masked, yet is also easily demonstrated and visible through our speech and actions. It is something that can be either embedded or shunned in an organization's culture but that cannot be easily analyzed or tracked by reports. It's so much deeper than diversity, which is what makes it so difficult to accomplish. We may think we are inclusive and never intentionally discriminate but may be surprised by tiny microaggressive, discriminatory comments, quotes, and mindsets that may contradict what we say or feel. …

“Inclusivity is not an overnight phenomenon, not a tectonic shift, but a subtle transition on a continuum. It is not an impulse but a movement, a conviction, a persistent nagging of our conscience pushing us to move to be more open-minded, more intentional, more accepting.”

The challenge to all of us is, “Are we willing to do this?”

It had been my desire at the beginning of my ACP Presidency to focus on a single theme and explore it fully. To that end, I am grateful that we have collectively not only dissected the theme of inclusivity from all angles but have also put many aspects of it into practice. It has also driven and inspired our policymaking, our membership, our leadership, and our future vision. Through these conversations, we have been able to focus on areas that have not received the recognition they deserve and have helped sustain a more grounded, wholesome future as ACP continues to be a leader among other membership and health care organizations.

It has been the opportunity of a lifetime, a privilege and joy, to have served as your President this past year. As the son of a minister/academician and a schoolteacher, growing up in poverty in a developing country, I never imagined that I would reach this stage in my career with the privilege of representing the best of the best, our superb internists across this country and the globe. I do not consider that a reflection of my ability, but indeed a demonstration of the inclusivity that ACP has demonstrated, where we have put our money where our mouth is and walked the talk. The cherished memories and friendships I have acquired, the incredible, inspirational examples of colleagues that I have witnessed, the selfless and tireless work of our staff, mostly in the background and the shadows, will all continue to sustain, inspire, and transform my future in medicine. Thank you for a lifetime of education that I will treasure forever. Gratefully #IM Proud! Au revoir.