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Transforming medical education through diversity

Transforming medical education through diversity

In the fall of 2014, Dr. Mala Joneja was appointed to a brand new role in the School of Medicine: Director of Diversity and Equity. Dr. Joneja studied medicine here at Queen’s, completed her postgraduate training in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology at Western University and earned a Master of Education degree in Health Professions Education (theory and policy studies) from OISE, University of Toronto. She is an Associate Professor in the Division of Rheumatology and in addition to being active in both undergraduate and postgraduate education, she is currently serving as acting Division Chair for Rheumatology.

Diversity is an important standard for every medical school in North America these days. Over the last decade, we have seen an increased focus on enhancing the diversity of our student populations, our faculty members and those who work in healthcare. This focus is about representing and relating to the people who health care providers see as patients. As Dr. Joneja says in her blog post, Seeking Diversity and Inclusion in Medical Education, “there is a move to ensure that the students who are studying to become physicians are as diverse as the population they are going to serve when they graduate.” In other words, fostering diversity in the learning environment means that we will graduate better doctors. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ publication, Diversity and Inclusion in Academic Medicine: A Strategic Planning Guide, “in a recent study from Harvard and the University of California […] students reported that contact with diverse peers led to a more balanced exchange of information in classroom discussions, more serious discussions of alternative viewpoints about disease and treatments, greater appreciation of inequities in the health care system, and more cultural sensitivity.”

In her role as Director of Diversity and Equity, Dr. Joneja’s goal is to “have an inclusive environment and an environment of respect for all students, staff and faculty members.” And the terms of her role lay out specific responsibilities related to promoting diversity:

  • Identify areas of priority need for diversity, equity and social accountability
  • Conduct a regular review of our Social Accountability and Diversity Statement
  • Establish formal linkages with the First Nations populations in the region, including Four Directions
  • Work with the Registrar’s Office to identify schools in our region and work to develop pipeline programs to attract members of our target groups to Queen’s
  • Work with the Admissions Committee to link the pipeline program to the admissions process for the School of Medicine
  • Develop collaborative programs with our regional partners and high schools to increase their exposure to Queen’s School of Medicine and promote admissions for students with low socio-economic status
    • On campus summer programs
    • Peer mentorship programs
    • Promote possibility of becoming a Queen’s medical student
  • Chair the Diversity Committee to promote increased awareness and knowledge of diversity issues, promoting and sponsoring diversity projects amongst medical students
  • Facilitate or conduct educational programs and/or special events related to Diversity
  • Collaborate with the staffing office to promote Diversity and ensure hiring processes are compatible with the Equity Office regulations
  • Collaborate with the Faculty Development office to ensure all incoming faculty have the knowledge and skills to operate effectively within a diverse organization
  • Develop annual processes to assess and report on diversity target group representation in the School of Medicine

Dr. Joneja has been busy these last two years, implementing and supporting a variety of initiatives towards these objectives.

Early in her role, Dr. Joneja identified a need for a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion in the School of Medicine. She chairs a diversity panel, made up of students, faculty members, representatives from the equity office and education developers. The panel meets monthly and works to create partnerships, incite discussion and ultimately build what will be the school’s strategic plan for diversity.

More and more, social accountability is becoming a part of accreditation standards, and schools are expected to have specific goals related to promoting and enhancing diversity outcomes among its students, faculty and leadership. This includes the appropriate use of policies and practices, programs and partnerships and achieving diversity among qualified applicants for medical school admission. Dr. Joneja is helping the school to achieve these goals by working with the education leadership and the admissions committee.

Diversity in student recruitment has been another focus for Dr. Joneja. This year, Ann Deer, Indigenous Access and Recruitment Coordinator, was hired to connect the School of Medicine with potential indigenous students who are interested in applying to medical school, and to share knowledge about Queen’s and Kingston. With Dr. Joneja’s help, this role has now become part of a recruitment program that includes student support and connecting students across faculties. Dr. Joneja also sits on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Task Force for the Faculty of Health Sciences, which will make recommendations to be implemented within the school, its curriculum and policies.

But diversity doesn’t end with our student population; Dr. Joneja is also spearheading an initiative to assess and increase diversity amongst our faculty members. Dr. Joneja is promoting the use, amongst Department Heads within the School of Medicine, of the Diversity and Equity Self-Assessment and Planning Tool (DEAP) developed by the Queen’s Equity Office. The DEAP tool allows leaders to identify gaps and areas needing improvement, and then to develop and execute plans for enhanced diversity. Changing the diversity of our faculty members is a slower process than our student population; with much less frequent turnover, this is a long-term initiative. But seeing a faculty population that is reflective of the diversity of our student population and the population at large is no less important to fostering a culture of inclusivity within the School of Medicine.

I am extremely proud of the momentum that Dr. Joneja has created through her initiatives so far, and I look forward to seeing the effects of this important push to enhance diversity and inclusion in the School of Medicine. There is no doubt that this process is enriching for our leadership, students, trainees and faculty members.

Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House…my door is always open.

And if you are a student, resident or faculty member and have an issue that Dr. Joneja can be of assistance with, she would be interested in hearing from you. Please contact her at:


Thank you to Jen Valberg for her assistance in preparing this blog.

Stephen Archer

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:36

Dear Richard. I couldn’t agree more. Dr. Joneja is amazing. Not only has she transformed the diversity landscape but she has done this while serving as Chair of Rheumatology and continuing to be both a successful educator and a respected clinician. The DOM is extremely proud of Mala and her many contributions to Queen’s University,

Stephen Archer

Heather F. Clarke PhD (Nursing) (BNSc '66 Queen's)

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:37

This initiative is most laudable….and as a Nursing Queen’s Alum I have been very interested in having this promoted in the School of Nursing, especially with an Aboriginal focus. So….I’m wondering why this is an initiative only of the school of medicine and not for the whole Faculty of Health Sciences…..the same circumstances exist in all schools – representing diversity in faculty and students as in the general population…..I would hope that the Faculty of Health Sciences could embrace this initiative on a faculty-wide basis

Heather F. Clarke PhD (Nursing) (BNSc '66 Queen's)

Thank you Heather. We are all aware of the tremendous contributions you have personally made to promoting diversity. And for those who might not know, congratulations on recently being recognized with an award from the Vancouver Queen’s Alumni Association. Dr. Joneja’s position happens to be with the School of Medicine, but I agree, the issues are important for the entire faculty. I am confident that each school is involved actively in diversity issues, but indeed, this blog focussed on the School of Medicine initiative.

All my best,

Richard Reznick

Richard Reznick

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