Jessica Nguyen and Sarenna Lalani | Queen's University School of Medicine, 2023
Dr. Mala Joneja is an Associate Professor and the Division Chair for the Rheumatology Division at Queen’s University. She is also the Diversity and Equity Director at Queen’s, so we thought it would be a fitting and unique opportunity to interview and hear from her for this special issue of Queen’s Medical Review. We learned more about what is going on behind the scenes to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Queen’s, as well as how Dr. Joneja thinks medical learners can provide allyship to Black students, Indigenous students, and people of colour.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
Currently, I am working with Dr. Philpott to put a plan for EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) in place for the entire faculty. That’s the big direction I’m going in. With respect to specific things I’m working on right now, I’m working with the admissions committee to help support any learners that are brought in through underrepresented routes. I’m working with the Faculty of Health Sciences Professional Development office on the Summer Reads Anti-Racism Program, where we go through a reading every Thursday morning related to anti-racism. I started a portal for medical students and residents, where they can anonymously report issues of racism or discrimination. I’m starting an interest group for residents and post-graduate trainees in equity, diversity, and inclusion, and I am hoping this will give the residents a safe space to talk about issues that occur. And I’m working on a new diversity statement from the School of Medicine.
What do you think is the physician's role in the Black Lives Matter movement?
I think the first step for faculty and students would be to acknowledge that there are inequities. We pride ourselves on being a profession that provides compassionate and excellent care to everyone, no one is treated differently. And I think it’s time to acknowledge that there are inequities and there is a lot of literature on that no matter what specialty a medical student is interested in, and no matter what field a medical faculty is a part of - they’ll find literature on inequity, and I think understanding and acknowledging that is the first step.
I think as physicians, in looking after Black people that are their patients, or teaching Black medical students, I think it’s really important that we really see who the individual is, and what being Black has meant for their background, their history, and their journey… In the case of the patient, looking after their overall health. And in the case of the student, looking at their career trajectory and mentoring them.
How do you think medical students and faculty can contribute to improving equity in healthcare for BIPOC?
It requires a process of inquiry, and curiosity, and compassion. Inquiring about one’s experience in a compassionate way, taking the time. One of the biggest barriers is that we don’t have time to spend communicating and learning about either our students or our patients as people. But it makes a huge difference to their health, for patients, and to the education for students. So it is a skill that I think medical students can learn. How do you quickly or efficiently find out what’s meaningful to the person about their situation? And how do you do that in a compassionate way? It’s something that I don’t think comes easy but with practice can happen.
What is the most memorable or valuable piece of advice you were given when you were in medical school?
I think the most valuable message that I got was not to underestimate yourself and what you can do. And to be honest it’s those people, the leaders and the mentors that have seen some potential in me that I didn’t see for myself, that really helped me keep going and move forward. So don’t underestimate yourself or what you’re capable of.