New dean prioritizes issues of diversity and equity in medical school

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of René Salazar

René Salazar, the new assistant dean for diversity at Dell Medical School, plans to open an office for diversity and make it an important aspect of the school’s mission. 

The office is expected to prioritize patient care for diverse populations and promote an encouraging working environment and research. 

“I really want to make sure we get this office up and running in my first month,” Salazar, who will take office on June 20, said. “I want to meet with diverse students because it is important to get a sense of who they are and where they come from.”

Salazar said that as a Mexican-American who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, he understands the importance of providing community support for minority students, faculty and patients.   

“We need to make sure … people feel it is a place where they are supported and valued,” Salazar said. “It’s going to be important to get a sense of what people need.”

Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston said part of the school’s vision for diversity includes thinking about the different career paths in health and how a more diverse workforce can be brought into health care.

“We are working on pipeline programs that go all the way back to middle school, to encourage people into a variety of different health careers,” Johnston said. “It started with summer camps, and we are hoping to expand that.”

Johnston said Salazar’s passionate energy and optimism make him a good fit for the position.

“He is a really dynamic guy,” Johnston said. “He’s charismatic and he knows how to get things done, and is a perfect person for our team.”

Business management senior Noah Minor, who will attend Dell Medical School this June, said he values Salazar’s previous experience leading projects working toward diversity in the UC-San Francisco School of Medicine’s student population, making the school more representative of the community it serves.

“There’s a lot of research that shows that [when] there is a similarity between the health care providers and the community it serves, care tends to be better,” Minor said.

Santiago Sanchez, biochemistry and Plan II junior, said that when considering medical schools to apply to, it is important the program is serious about serving poor and minority communities.

“Institutional prejudices can have an effect on the way a physician treats a nurse, a patient, a medical student or another physician,” Sanchez said. “Diversity can work to counteract institutional prejudice.”