How one radiology department is fostering inclusion during the pandemic in 5 marginalized groups

Fostering inclusion has become a crucial strategy during the pandemic for leaders in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Radiology.

The Nashville-based institution has looked to pay particular attention to any vulnerable groups that may face stigmatization or fewer opportunities, experts wrote Tuesday in JACR.

“Our department has recognized how COVID-19 might increase the risk for team members to be marginalized during the pandemic,” Virginia Planz, MD, director of grand rounds in the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at VUMC, and colleagues wrote May 19. “In response, we have paused to ask ourselves whose voices might be vulnerable to exclusion and then taken concrete actions to foster inclusion.”

Planz and her coauthors highlighted five specific employee groups that the department has targeted in this strategy, detailing steps they’ve taken to build inclusion while maintaining social distancing.

1) All department members: VUMC has looked to deliver “consistent and accessible virtual communication” across the team, coupled with social support and well-being resources. This has included weekly video conferences with leadership, self-care breaks that incorporate “mindfulness sessions” and mini-yoga exercises, and weekly support groups.

“Wellness ‘micro practices,’ or short mindfulness tools incorporated into daily activities, such as focused breathing during hand washing, have helped mitigate feelings of burnout,” the report authors added.

2) Those at high risk of COVID complications: Along with strict distancing measures, Vanderbilt has launched a “confidential COVID-19 medical exemption process.” This allows team members to fill out a discreet online request form, with an independent third party evaluating any high-risk employees for exemption from direct patient care.

Those who meet the criteria are reassigned to different duties at the same salary level.

“By increasing the number of isolated reading rooms, reading stations at outpatient facilities, and at-home reading stations, our department offers an opportunity for those high-risk members to remain engaged in the interpretation of diagnostic imaging,” Plans and colleagues wrote.

3) Employees at risk for anti-Asian discrimination: VUMC has created an official statement to reinforce its commitment to “safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for all and condemning acts of hate, bias and discrimination.” They’ve also launched an online incident reporting system, allowing them to share any concerns anonymously with the department vice chair of diversity and inclusion, “without fear of retaliation.”

4) Individuals with family care needs: The radiology department has created work schedule templates that incorporate staggered time shifts and work-from-home options. That’s lent VUMC employees flexibility to tend to children while maintaining their duties.

The medical center’s division of child and family services has additionally offered employees back-up childcare from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

5) Students, residents and fellows: Radiologist-in-trainings’ educational experience has been severely hampered by the pandemic, forcing VUMC to adopt more virtual methods of career growth.

“With the use of direct messaging systems in PACS and a smooth transition to videoconferencing for didactic lectures, our trainees remain engaged in active radiology learning while on rotation and remotely from home,” the team noted.

Other methods have also included staffing VUMC’s COVID hotline to stay engaged, creating online educational radiology resources, and attending online conferences.

Vanderbilt expects these inclusion measures to continue to stay vital during the transition to normalcy.

“As our country and healthcare system move forward with reopening, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty may become more prevalent during acclimation to this ‘new normal,’” Planz and co-authors concluded. “Inclusion will become of increasing importance as we strive to create an environment where all voices are heard. In doing so, everyone can be made to feel that they belong.”