Our Commitment to Diversity and Anti-racism

We are proud to be part of Columbia Psychiatry’s initiative to work against racism and other forms of social injustice, both within our training community and our health care system. We believe that excellence thrives in an inclusive environment that values diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and socioeconomic status. We are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in our department and believe that our psychiatric workforce should reflect the diverse communities we serve. Approximately a third of our current residents come from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in medicine (URM). 

This year we saw communities of color disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 as a result of longstanding inequities in social determinants of health. At the same time, we witnessed the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among others. We stand with the Association of American Medical Colleges and American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training against police brutality and racism in America. We also support the Student National Medical Association’s call to dismantle racism in medicine and medical education. 

We are committed to working against racism and addressing health care disparities through our approach to (1) applicant recruitment and selection, (2) residency training, and (3) patient care. 

Applicant Recruitment and Selection 

We are dedicated to fostering diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability and socioeconomic status – both for our program and for psychiatry as a field. Started by Dr. Patrice Malone in 2016, the Dr. June Jackson Christmas Summer Fellowship Program offers first-year URM students the opportunity to enhance their exposure to psychiatry and our department by spending five weeks rotating through a variety of clinical settings. In 2017, we expanded the program to include a NIMH-funded 8-week research track option. 

More recently, one of our PGY3 residents, Dr. Nicole Pacheco, received a SAMHSA grant from the American Psychiatric Association to provide URM fourth-year medical students the opportunity for a funded sub-internship experience in psychiatry at Columbia. We are looking forward to launching this initiative once externships are resumed at the medical center.

As part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we require all faculty participating in our recruitment season to complete training in unconscious bias. We aim to conduct holistic reviews of applicants and do not use Alpha Omega Alpha membership or a USMLE score cut-off (other than a passing score for Step 1) as part of applicant screening. 

Residency Training

We believe training in cultural psychiatry and health care disparities is essential throughout all four years of the program. Cultural Psychiatry, taught by Dr. Roberto Lewis-Fernández, Director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence, has been an integral part of our curriculum for decades. Four years ago, Dr. Angela Coombs, a resident at the time and now a current faculty member in our department, expanded our curriculum to include a course on Diversity and Disparities. Following the killing of George Floyd, members of our Psychiatry Residents Diversity Alliance and the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion hosted and Open Forum on Racism and Inequity for residents and faculty. In addition, we invited Imadé Nibokun the founder of Depressed While Black for a Q&A session with residents and faculty to share her experience of racism within mental health care. This fall, we are hosting a faculty-wide training to encourage our clinical teaching faculty to include the impact of racism and health care inequities in clinical case discussions and care management when supervising residents. Our goal is to ensure that these principles are integrated into all aspects of clinical care and supervision. 

Patient Care

We are dedicated to providing outstanding patient care to all. The Washington Heights Community Service (WHCS), a comprehensive community-based program, is a highlight among our clinical training sites. The program provides both inpatient and outpatient care to those with serious mental illness, regardless of their ability to pay. To meet the need of the community which is 70% Hispanic/Latinx, these services offer treatment in both Spanish and English. In an effort to reduce health disparities, the WHCS has integrated primary medical care into the outpatient psychiatric clinics. We are incredibly excited that one month of our residents’ training in primary care is in this integrated care clinic. 

We are also committed to public engagement in raising awareness about structural inequalities in the field through programing such as our recent panel “Unequal Care: Mental Health and Black Americans,” which was co-sponsored by our department and the Columbia School of Journalism. This wide-ranging discussion touched on the inequalities that have affected the Black community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased focus on police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and a host of other issues ranging from addiction to the lack of representation in mental health care. 

As a community, our residents are partnering with our clinical service chiefs, the New York Presbyterian Hospital Center for Health Justice, and our department’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to make racial and ethnic disparities the focus of this year’s residency-wide quality improvement effort. We aim to educate trainees and faculty on the ways race and ethnicity are considered in clinical assessments and medical record-keeping in order to: 

  • Decrease bias in clinical assessment and treatment 
  • Focus care on the impact of structural racism and other social determinants of health 
  • Track and eliminate disparities in health care