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 Jorge A. García associate dean for diverse and inclusive learning communities. In his role, García has worked to enhance and build a diverse and welcoming learning environment and culture, and incorporate inclusion efforts for students, residents and fellows.
In a recent interview, García shared his approach to DEI leadership, his vision for the Office of Student and Resident Diversity (OSRD) and what inspired him to become a professor.
How would you describe your approach to DEI leadership?
When I was a medical student at UCSF, I was fortunate to join a robust community of underrepresented students at a school that had a genuine commitment to diversity, inclusion and health equity. I very quickly learned the power of community, and I simply would not have gotten through medical school without that impactful community.
So, my approach to DEI leadership has always been in the context of relationships and community. I believe that creating strong and authentic relationships builds community, and this process starts with a single relationship and it grows one relationship at a time. Like throwing a pebble in the water, each relationship has the power to create waves of change and influence the environment.
I have this wonderful opportunity to serve as UC Davis School of Medicine's inaugural associate dean for diverse and inclusive learning communities and it's something that continues to humble me. I am able to interact with so many students — high school students, undergraduates, and professional students — and I love connecting them with their peers, our residents, our faculty and our staff. These connections not only bring out the best in our learners; they bring out the best in all of us.
What are your priorities for the Office for Student and Resident Diversity?
I hope our students feel a strong sense that they belong at the UC Davis School of Medicine — that this is their school and we are here for them. Our goal is to help them become the best versions of themselves.
I once heard one of our Office of Student Resident Diversity staff members tell our Pathway Program students, “Your success is our success.” This really captures what our community is all about, and our job is to continue delivering this message in word and in deed.
Of course, the challenge is that our community includes real people. I like to quip that the problem with organizations is that there are people involved. I have always been inspired by the quest of our country to become a more perfect union. The truth is we're not there yet, and chasing perfection is the Arthurian quest for the grail, but there is always the hope that we are going to be better.
We need to have that same mindset when it comes to diversity. We must diversify, but each step we take will come with some challenges. Some of our areas are still not diverse enough, and as they begin to diversify, there certainly will be some growing pains. As we work through those challenges, we will become more inclusive. And once we become more inclusive, then we are a step closer to more equity. This is how I view the process.
What are the steps the School of Medicine is taking to ensure optimal learning environments for our diverse learning community?
Like all medical schools, we are always actively searching for ways to improve the learning environment for our diverse community. However, I would not have spent over 25 years of my life here at UC Davis if I did not believe in who we are and what we are trying to do. I believe there is a genuine effort, not just among the school’s leadership, but among department leadership, faculty, residents, students and staff to really do our best to optimize those learning environments.
For me, it is always about giving our students a much better experience than I had. I had a very hard upbringing in medicine, and many of my residents and attendings in the Bay Area did not treat me well. This mistreatment did not help me. In fact, it made me think that I did not belong in medicine and that I would never finish medical school. As professors, we have the privilege of bringing out the best in our students and preparing them for their lives as physicians. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to flip the script that marred my upbringing in the profession and better nurture future generations of health professionals.
Why are UC Davis Health's Pathway Programs so important to ensuring medical school is accessible and relevant to diverse students, residents and fellows?
I love the Pathway Programs, which provides tools and knowledge that inspire and lead socio-economically disadvantaged students towards a pathway to college and medicine. I tell each group of scholars that they're part of my retirement plan. An ancient bit of wisdom speaks of the crisis that arises when there aren’t enough workers to harvest an abundant crop. I reflect on this often as I think about our work with OSRD. And we definitely need more workers to get the important job done.
I believe these programs will inspire more underrepresented students towards college and medicine, which will help diversify our residency programs and ultimately our faculty.
When I began my career, I did not know I was going to serve as both a physician and a professor of clinical medicine. I went to medical school, just hoping to get my degree so that I could go out and serve people like my mom, who spoke very little English. However, on my first day of medical school, our class was warmly welcomed by a young African American ophthalmologist. He was so impressive, and his name was Dr. Michael V. Drake, who now happens to be our UC president. I remember in that moment being blown away that there were people who dedicate their lives to nurturing the next generation of health professionals. So, when I saw that in all its glory, I was just hooked! I thought that Dr. Drake had the best job in the world because he got to care for patients, but he also got to mold future health care leaders.
When I have the privilege of welcoming our first-year students, I always remember how Dr. Drake inspired me that first day and my hope is to do the same. I want our students — and this includes the scholars in our Pathway Programs — to say to themselves, “Dr. García has the best job in the world and I want to do that!” Nothing would make me happier.
“Dr. Garcia is a leader, advocate, ally and mentor to many non-traditional, underrepresented medical students like me. He fosters a collaborative environment where diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds are seen as value added, not deficits, to the medical profession. Having a diverse and inclusive student body and faculty at makes us stronger as an academic institution and inspires the next generation of exceptional health care providers.”