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Diversity, equity and inclusion

Better representation of minority groups in medical practice can deliver clear benefits. Research has consistently shown that if you have more diversity in your organisation, you attract top talent, make better decisions, and you're more innovative.

Avant media

Monday, 15 January 2024

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Better representation of minority groups in medical practice can deliver clear benefits. Research has consistently shown that if you have more diversity in your organisation, you attract top talent, make better decisions, and you're more innovative.

Making good connections

Gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation are all diversity groups that can be underrepresented. Having doctors from diverse backgrounds helps with connecting to patients and communities.

Myles McKenzie is a medical student who was awarded a bursary by the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, funded by the Avant Foundation. Keen to make a difference, Myles says, “I aspire to become one of the few Aboriginal psychiatrists in regional North Queensland so I can work to reduce the soaring rates of Indigenous mental illness and youth suicide.”

Dr Sam Heard, Medical Director of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in the NT, believes trust and reciprocity are the basis of good care. “I think you have to come from a compassionate point of view; if you are willing to go the extra mile for the patient, they can tell you really care about them. When language is different and understanding is reduced, you’ve got to spend extra time.”

Dr Gillian Farrell, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and Head of the Darwin Workforce Project, also recognises the importance of effectively connecting with Aboriginal patients to get better outcomes. She notes, “The long-term success of programs intended to improve the health of remote communities desperately needs the involvement of health professionals who have come from within these communities.”

Enabling diversity

Like any other professional group, doctors can experience ill health or disability. Many who are disabled or have a long-term health condition, successfully study and practise medicine.

While at medical school, Dinesh Palipana had an accident that left him with quadriplegia. “I wanted to return to medical school from the moment the accident happened,” says Dr Palipana OAM, who is now a registrar in the Emergency Department at the Gold Coast University Hospital and Senior Lecturer at Griffith University.

“In Australia it can be difficult to go through medical school with a disability. When I returned, there were guidelines that could be interpreted strictly to exclude people with disabilities. That’s why Drs Hannah Jackson, Harry Eeman and I founded Doctors with Disabilities. We saw there were barriers against physically diverse people coming into medicine, so we felt we needed to advocate for them.

“I think now is the time within our profession to look forward and be accepting of a diverse range of people. This will benefit patients and our profession. By embracing different people and giving people an opportunity, we can not only improve the profession, but we can improve society and be a leader in inclusivity."

Encouraging women in medicine

When Dr Jennifer Green started out, there weren’t any female orthopaedic surgeons in Sydney. Despite the lack of visible female representation in her specialty, Dr Green says she did not suffer any discrimination or setbacks, “It’s an ‘unconscious bias’, rather than discrimination”.

“Historically, when joint replacements had to be done by hand, there was a reason why tall, strong males were the dominant members of the orthopaedic fraternity. We have had power tools for more than 50 years which mean strength is not a priority and there are also many more sub-specialties to choose from.

“People think diversity is something nice to have but not really relevant, but if you don’t have a diverse work force, your patients will suffer. Evidence shows this leads to profound healthcare inequities,” says Dr Green.

Key messages

  • Review and revise recruitment and hiring practices to eliminate biases and promote diversity.
  • Evaluate and adjust workplace policies and practices to be more inclusive. This could involve accommodating for different abilities, zero-tolerance of discrimination and harassment, and ensuring equal access to development opportunities.
  • Offer ongoing diversity and inclusion training for all employees. This raises awareness about biases and stereotypes and also provides strategies for building an inclusive workplace.

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This article was originally published in Connect magazine issue 21.


This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published.

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