Education Building

Meet Ruth Shim, new associate dean for diverse and inclusive education


The UC Davis School of Medicine is dedicated to creating an environment of inclusion and respect, and to actively recruiting and fostering the development of a physician workforce that reflects the rich diversity of its community. To support those efforts, the School of Medicine named Ruth Shim associate dean for diverse and inclusive education. In her role, Shim is working to ensure that the curriculum and education programs are accessible and relevant to diverse students, residents, and fellows. 

In a recent interview, Shim shared her vision for the Office of Student and Resident Diversity, definitions of diversity, equity and justice, and how society can address microaggressions.

What is the role of the Office for Student and Resident Diversity?

Ruth Shim

We really want to be a resource for students. For any students experiencing racism, sexism, or any form of discrimination, we want to be available to support students in those spaces.

We owe our students the opportunity to get their education and become doctors without traumatizing them or causing them harm. Our goal is to make the learning climate and educational experience at UC Davis School of Medicine as rich as possible and to remove any barriers in the way of our students having the best possible educational experience.

What are your definitions for the words diversity, equity, and inclusion?

There are many definitions for those concepts, but one of my favorite descriptions is that diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. I like thinking about it in that framing, but it's important to take it one step further and talk about the role of equity which is the central principle we should be striving for.

In my role, equity has a lot to do with the educational opportunities and educational outcomes of our students. I want to make sure that every student in the School of Medicine has the same opportunity to be successful and become the healthcare professional they want to be.

I also like to add one additional term and that is the concept of justice. When you're thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts you are focusing on providing underrepresented groups targeted interventions to support them. But justice is about fixing the system to ensure that everybody has the same opportunities to be successful and so you can't really get to a place of equity without thinking about justice.

At UC Davis School of Medicine, we are thinking about justice and addressing system level barriers that prevent students from having equitable outcomes.

How is the School of Medicine currently tracking, monitoring, and addressing any cultural mistreatment such as microaggressions, blatant racist acts, and racist sentiments?

This is a really challenging topic because issues of microaggressions vary quite a bit. Different measures that have set up reporting structures to hold people accountable have not traditionally done the best job to ensure there is effective feedback on these difficult topics.

People tend to get very defensive when we bring up issues of mistreatment or issues of microaggressions. So, part of the work again involves educating people that we all commit microaggressions. As individuals in our society, we all have harmful behaviors because it is a byproduct of being socialized. The real work is about educating people after they commit a microaggression so they can learn, grow, and move forward without doing it again. We all must get to a place collectively where we are able to receive feedback without taking any sort of personal offense.

As an institution, we are working to create a system where everyone is aware of how to effectively report any mistreatment and we can provide compassionate educational opportunities to people who commit a microaggression to improve themselves. It is really hard work and it is going to take a lot of time.

How is UC Davis Health uniquely positioned to address health equity and the impact of racism on health systems?

Our medical students have really helped drive our efforts around health equity and racism on health systems by working closely with the leadership at the School of Medicine. A group of students who are members of White Coats for Black Lives took the initiative to do a racial justice report card across the UC Davis Health system and the metrics from the report showed that although there are some areas where we are effectively practicing racial justice as a health system, we also struggle in a number of metrics, including how we evaluate of students.

In response, the School of Medicine created an task force headed by Tonya Fancher, Michelle Ko, and Marjorie Westervelt to analyze the school's evaluations of students and found there were inequities by race and ethnicity for our core clerkships.

I am very proud that Allison Brashear, Dean of the School of Medicine, addressed these issues head-on and acknowledged these inequities by putting together a racial equity task force to provide recommendations to address our core clerkships.  I am serving as the chair of the task force, which is made up primarily of students as well as some faculty, staff, and administration members. Our plan is to provide our recommendations by the beginning of December on how to comprehensively address inequities in clerkship grading.

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