Diversity in Leadership Supports Good Health and Wellbeing

Thursday marked the UNA-USA Avila University chapter’s “Friendsgiving” event which brought together a small group of students and staff to share a meal in the spirit of thanksgiving. Tuti Cavusoglu, the chapter president, spent hours of her time cooking traditional Turkish dishes to share among the group as they welcomed Hayat Abdullahi, Board member of UNA-USA Greater Kansas City Chapter and the Director of Community Health Strategies and Innovation at a community medical center, to the dinner.

Mrs. Abdullahi spoke to the UNA Avila Chapter about the importance of understanding diversity and its integral role in American society. Her experience working with minority groups throughout the United States was eye-opening for many of our members, the majority of whom are from Kansas or Missouri. What captured my interest was her main focus on the importance of diversity in leadership.

Mrs. Abdullahi worked with foreign nationals from Africa for many years regarding their medical care in the United States. She spoke of the trials faced by many American doctors while they are caring for foreign patients from poorer nations. There is often miscommunication between doctors and patients due to a simple lack of understanding. This stems from misinterpretation of cultural norms of the respective party, whether it’s the patient’s preference for a particular style of care or a doctor’s approach to how a patient is received and treated during treatment. Due to the limited knowledge each individual possesses, and the vast amount of cultural traditions present in the United States, it is not surprising to encounter situations in which the caregiver and patient’s opinions diverge One clear example of this is when pregnant women of African or Middle Eastern descent refuse care from a male doctor. By American standards, this is insulting to many professionals within the medical field. However, to the patients from African and Middle Eastern backgrounds, it is uncommon or even frowned upon to be cared for by another man outside of the family – whether it be for cultural or religious reasons. This is just one of many examples that Mrs Abdullahi had experienced during her time abroad and at the Medical Center.

Many of these issues are targeted by leadership of health care institutions, however these issues remain prevalent today. What Mrs. Abdullahi shared with us was the pattern of leadership decisions that arise from non-diverse groups. For many years, the example shared above was not considered a major problem by medical boards across the country. As a result, the attendance or admittance rate of African and Middle Eastern minorities decreased considerably. This is not to say that they had fewer children or required less medical assistance, instead it reveals a mistrust of the healthcare system and a reluctance to seek out help when it is obviously required. A lack of diversity among health board members contributed to diminished understanding of cultural differences in healthcare administration.

What struck me about her presentation was the value she placed on diversity in leadership. Decision making and critical thinking are vital to the successful of any business, including a hospital caring for patients. Her time at the Medical Center allowed her to establish a more diverse leadership group that brought up the idea of a cultural welcoming program within the admissions area of the hospital. The purpose of this area was to educate both doctors and patients about the typical differences experienced by both parties. The results spoke volumes – with the attendance rate of these minority groups increasing almost three fold in a year.

The healthcare provided by the Medical Center to these particular groups increased in effectiveness substantially due to this education that ensured people were more easily able to relate and understand what the medical care would involve both culturally and professionally. The moral of this story is that one of our greatest advantages is that we think differently. Instead of letting it divide us and force minority groups to be disadvantaged, it should be used to bring more people of different backgrounds together to improve the effectiveness of our establishments and in this case, our health care services.