Appreciating our diversity, our strength

What an honor it is to write this week’s message to you. On Tuesday next week, the Department of Internal Medicine will return to a tradition we began 15 years ago, Employee Appreciation Day. In its first years, we designed and printed T-shirts for everyone, and I enjoy seeing those appear in labs or around town. They are always worn with pride. In more recent years, we narrowed our focus and our carbon footprint by offering our 1,000-plus members lunch and then donating the leftovers to a local nonprofit. In some of those celebrations we hung a large poster displaying each member’s years of service. It was always a thrill for folks to watch their names climb up the wall year after year. It was also a testament to the loyalty this department inspires to see some very high totals near the top—35 years, 50 years, 60 years. Amazing dedication.

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This year, the planning committee returned another tradition to the celebration. A map of every country where one of our members was born will hang both in the MERF Atrium where we will pick up our boxed lunch, but also in your divisions where you gather for some morning refreshments. The map is worth studying in detail. Teresa Ruggle, one of the talented illustrators and designers in our Design Center, reports that she added more than 20 countries to this map in order to update it from 2007. This brings the total number of countries represented in our department past a whopping 70. Every continent is represented except Antarctica and Australia, though future recruitment efforts should perhaps only focus on one of those two. It is easy to take this degree of diversity for granted when we work within it every day, but we must recognize that it is not common.

Many studies demonstrate that those organizations with higher rates of gender, ethnic, and racial diversity are more profitable, more productive, more creative, and more innovative, especially when reflected in leadership roles. Incorporating difference into an organization presents challenges, of course. Things are easier if everyone thinks and acts like you or views a problem’s solution in the same way as you. But think about how much opportunity is squandered when alternative paths are never considered. No, it is often in the process of navigating our differences that we not only find the best solution, but our teams become more united. Then we face the next challenge confident that our opinions will be heard and incorporated, making us more likely to offer them. In short, our inclusiveness, our diversity, is our strength.

I am pleased and grateful to our planning committee for devising a way to bring Employee Appreciation Day back this year, while also recognizing that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Details will be sent later today to those who RSVP’d. Their plan for distributed divisional gatherings in the morning and one quick exchange of a pre-prepared meal at midday should do well to mitigate risk. Although institutional restrictions have relaxed for the moment, we are a large enough department that really gathering in force as we did in pre-pandemic days just would not be prudent until there is universal, or closer to universal, vaccination. In this way, we hope to serve as an example that we take this crisis as seriously as many other courageous institutions have by using every tool available to keep all members of our communities safe.

As you make your way over on Tuesday to the MERF Atrium to pick up your lunch, I hope that you will reflect on how diversity reveals itself to you in your daily work. Perhaps it is the person working beside you in the lab who introduced you to a method that has saved you time. Maybe an overnight attending described the neighborhood they grew up in halfway around the world in a quiet moment in a break room. Maybe you saw a chance to open someone else’s eyes to a new way of thinking about a problem. Whatever the situation, I would challenge you to focus on something specific, something for which you can be grateful. The difficulties our department has faced in the last 18 months have been some of the hardest, and the memories of this time will last us the rest of our lives, long past the pandemic’s ebb. But it is my deep belief that the trust we offer each other, the openness we accept and return without judgment, the way we inspire each other, how we work together—these are the things that we will recall and be comforted by. Our memories of each other. We are a team, we are Iowa, we are Internal Medicine. To all the faculty, all the staff, those serving in leadership roles and those just coming up, to every resident, every fellow, every researcher, every person who calls this department home: Thank you. I could not be prouder of what we have achieved and more excited about what we will do next.

We had originally intended for a video that I recorded earlier this week to be released on Tuesday, but I am happy to share it with you now.



About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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