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Hannah Valantine: Leading the way in diversifying medicine

Hannah Valantine, MD, told her colleagues at London University's Medical School more than 30 years ago that she was interested in cardiology. In return, she got variations of the same response. "A black cardiologist who's a woman as well? You must be mad!" Today, Valantine is one of the world’s leading transplant doctors and also the senior associate dean for leadership and diversity at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Eight years ago Valantine was appointed to the senior associate dean post and charged with changing the culture of a medical school that was still reeling from a stinging indictment in the 1990s that its leadership was threaded with an old boy’s network where women and minorities could never advance. Valantine began her task by reviewing a lot of data that spoke to the isolation of women faculty, and it occurred to her that she “had experienced similar feelings” many times too.

Valantine is a realist. She knows that changing any culture around big issues such as making real strides at advancing women and minorities in the workforce doesn’t happen overnight. But she's an optimist as well and proud of a lot that is underway and says that one of the big questions she was asked in the beginning – “If Stanford paid attention to “this diversity thing,” would it be doing so at the expense of excellence?” - is something that “I don’t hear… so much anymore.”

I talked with Valantine for my latest 1:2:1 podcast. During our conversation she told me, among other things, that for her diversity means:

..bringing together different perspectives to the table that enrich our society, that enrich the way we make decisions, that enrich the decision making processes that lead to better solutions. And I think that diversity as defined by gender and race are mere proxies, mere proxies, for this diversity of perspectives. In fact, I don't really like the term ‘diversity.’ I think it has implications that are...that really miss the point of this richness of different perspectives and the potential that holds for excellence, innovation, coming up with something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Previously: NIH awards aim to increase diversity in the sciences and Advancing the careers of women in academic medicine

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