Guest Opinions

Diversity, inclusion important in health care profession, too

“Hey Dr. Peterman, do you know how much easier school is here in Boise than in India? In India, I have to go long hours, go on Saturdays, and the tests are really hard.” I asked 9-year-old Ritvik (his name has been changed to protect his privacy) if his friends here knew what it was like in India. He said, “Oh, yeah. They do now. They ask me questions about it.”

Having practiced pediatrics for over 35 years here in Boise, I am enriched every day by my interactions with children and their parents. I have patients from India, Iraq, Mexico, Europe, China, South Vietnam, Syria, Sudan, Kenya, and of course the United States. Some are refugees who when we first met could not speak English and now are going to college. Others are here because their parents have advanced degrees and are helping our local businesses to thrive. It is impossible to measure how much all the children in the Treasure Valley benefit from attending school with kids from different cultures.

Twenty-eight state legislators recently signed a letter to urge the new president of Boise State University to stop inclusion programs and end “this drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture.” Really? The American Academy of Pediatrics has always pursued a vision that “has included treasuring the uniqueness of each child and fostering a profession, health care system and communities that celebrate all aspects of the diversity of child and family.” Today, more than ever, I would argue we need more diversity programs, not fewer, to promote the growth of healthy children.

A good portion of my practice is devoted to helping children with school-related problems. It is common for me to treat children and teenagers with anxiety or depression related to bullying, offensive comments on social media, or being excluded for being different. These conflicts stem from children who are threatened by differences. It is our obligation as parents, teachers and adults to educate our children about the opportunities that are created by being with others who are different. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy outlining how “racism undermines individual and population health outcomes” and offering strategies to help caregivers address it.

Ritvik’s friends and I have learned that there are more than 20 major languages spoken in India, and it varies based on where one lives in the country. I doubt Ritvik’s friends care that he has dark skin or a different-sounding name. I have learned that Indian doctors use an oil from the neem plant to treat skin problems, and sometimes the last name of a child is his father’s first name.

I applaud Boise State University for having diversity programs particularly as they impact the future teachers of our children. Mr. Rogers once wrote, “In many ways we are all alike — and yet we’re all different! We can feel a great sense of kinship to those around us and at the same time recognize that each one of us is unique!”

David L. Peterman, MD, is CEO of Primary Health Medical Group.
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