It’s time to focus more on inclusion in health care

Nkem Chukwumerije, MD

During a recent virtual panel titled “Navigating the Future of DEI,” Nkem Chukwumerije, MD, MPH, FACP, national physician lead for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity for the Permanente Medical Groups, said it’s as important to focus on inclusion in health care as on diversity to keep people interested in health equity efforts.

“When you really focus on inclusion, I’ve found that more people get [engaged] than when you focus more on diversity,” Dr. Chukwumerije told a virtual panel of fellow health care leaders. The panel participants — named to Modern Healthcare’s list of Top Diversity Leaders — discussed meaningful ways to champion equity efforts as diversity becomes more polarized following last fall’s Supreme Court decision that struck down affirmative action in colleges.

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Pursuing health equity is both a moral and business imperative

Dr. Chukwumerije also serves as president and executive medical director for The Southeast Permanente Medical Group, one of Georgia’s largest multispecialty medical groups. He stressed that as a physician leader, addressing inequities and disparities in health outcomes by providing culturally responsive care for patients is both a moral and a business imperative. “And part of that, frankly, is about creating an environment that is inclusive and equitable,” he said.

He underscored the importance of expanding awareness of the applicability and benefits of equity, inclusion, and diversity both for patients and for health care organizations. For example, physicians who understand the culture, issues, and needs of a local patient population may have insights that result in better decisions about how to serve that community.

“At Kaiser Permanente, one of our missions is to make sure we deliver total health, and total health means you’re taking care of the physical, mental, and social well-being of a person,” he said. “If you don’t have a complete understanding of the social well-being of a person, how are you going to deliver care to that person?”

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Creating awareness begins with education

Creating awareness of the importance of equity, inclusion, and diversity begins with education, Dr. Chukwumerije said. Kaiser Permanente has launched Belong@KP, a science-based learning and engagement program that fosters inclusion in health care and achieves health equity and social justice goals through impactful habit changes and system improvements.

“Belong@KP Part 1 focuses on making sure that we understand the idea of conscious bias and Part 2 addresses the history of systemic barriers, especially as it relates to race and ethnicity in America,” Dr. Chukwumerije said. “With that awareness, we’ve been able to elicit folks who have the empathy to be advocates for change.”

From a business perspective, supporting equity, inclusion and diversity are also important for retention and recruitment. “Almost 65% of people in the workforce prefer organizations and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion,” he said. “So, if we do that right, we’re going to increase our retention and recruitment. The business aspect of it is something that we need to really emphasize.”

Note: To view a replay of the full panel, visit (registration required)