Social Determinants Key to Diversifying Health Workforce

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Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade

As medical schools throughout the country consider the need to retool their diverse hiring practices in the wake of state-led anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) legislation, they can look to other institutions’ workarounds, such as UC Davis Health at the University of California, Davis.

Having navigated this challenge since 1996, when voters in the state effectively ended the consideration of race in hiring, UC Davis Health stands out as a beacon for DEI efforts in the health care industry through its comprehensive outreach and recruitment strategies.

UC Davis Health — which encompasses several hospitals, clinics, and medical centers along with the university’s schools of medicine and nursing — recently published a case study in NEJM Catalyst, from the New England Journal of Medicine, highlighting the institution’s success in diversifying its workforce by working closely with, and hiring from, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with significant marginalized populations.

The study acts as a step-by-step guide for medical schools and centers that want to bolster racial and socioeconomic representation among their employees and within the wider industry.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are core tenets of our recruitment strategies,” Lyndon Huling, EdD, UC Davis Health’s interim lead for talent acquisition, said in a press release. “We implement those values in our approach to outreach. We know that a diverse and local workforce cultivates innovation, improves patient outcomes and makes UC Davis Health an employer of choice.”

A core component of the university’s recruitment strategy is the Anchor Institution Mission (AIM) for Com-munity Health initiative. Through the program, UC Davis Health buys from diverse vendors, invests in community-based organizations, establishes volunteer opportunities, and hires individuals from 13 underserved zip codes in the Sacramento area. The effort applies to the institution’s entire workforce, including nurses, medical technologists, information technology specialists, administrative workers, and physicians.

By using social determinants, such as geography and economic status, the university has been able to increase racial and ethnic diversity among employees without focusing explicitly on race. From 2015 to 2021, UC Davis Health saw a 10.4% jump in the number of non- White employees, who now account for just over 50% of the total workforce.

Since launching AIM in 2020, UC Davis Health has steadily increased the rate of employment from these neighborhoods — starting at 12% before AIM, and jumping to 17% by the second year after implementation. Looking ahead, the institution aims to further enhance diversity by employing 20% of its workforce from AIM communities.

Integral to the success of these initiatives is the collaboration between human resources and the Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (HEDI). Not only does this partnership and community-based approach benefit the university and industry’s workforce, says Hendry Ton, MD, study co-author, behavioral science professor, and associate vice chancellor for HEDI, but it fosters meaningful connections with underserved communities in the region.

“Tackling poverty and other social determinants of health is a daunting task. Yet, it is very near and dear to the heart and mission of UC Davis as a land grant and health care institution,” Ton said. “We are taking a vital step towards becoming an enduring community partner trusted for our commitment to the well-being of California’s diverse communities. We hope this work inspires other organizations to do the same.”