Remarks on Diversity by UM President Julio Frenk Cap Miller School’s Cultural Awareness Week

A lively discussion about diversity in health care between University of Miami President Julio Frenk and students at UM’s Miller School of Medicine capped the school’s highly successful Cultural Awareness Week on Friday, January 26.

From left, UM President Julio Frenk, Doris Cubas, Karishma Desai, and Edward Abraham, M.D.

Frenk, who took questions from a large audience of medical students, said that increasing diversity at the Miller School, and throughout UM, is a vital part of the university’s strategic plan being developed under his leadership. Preparing students for careers as physicians in an increasingly diverse world is the right thing to do, he said. He added, however, his belief that a university’s mission is larger than simply preparing the future work force; universities also are an engine of opportunity and source of upward mobility. By cultivating diversity, they help provide valuable perspectives on complex problems throughout the world.

Health care equality, he added, is the sign of a fair society because it helps level the playing field for different socio-economic classes. Furthermore, having cross-cultural competence will be critical for future practicing physicians.

Tolerance for others can be a first step, he said, using the example of his grandparents, who escaped to Mexico from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“I owe my life to the strangers I never met, but who welcomed my family to their country,” Frenk said.

Cultural Awareness Week offered a series of lunchtime presentations and discussions about a variety of diversity issues, including race, sexual identity, competency training and implicit bias. It was organized under the leadership of medical student Karishma Desai, Class of 2020, with assistance from Doris Cubas, Class of 2019, and with sponsorship by Miller School Dean Edward Abraham, M.D.

“My hopes for this week include exposing students to information and skills that we don’t traditionally learn as part of our medical classes,” said Desai. “I hope that students will be armed with more confidence and a broader perspective, in order to better approach clinical encounters with patients of different backgrounds. Most important, I hope that students feel that cultural competence is an ongoing conversation that we must continually reflect on.”