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The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Blog Conversations That Matter With Rita Guevara, MD

By Lisa Ryan

In “Conversations That Matter,” a new blog and audio series, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leon McCrea II, MD, MPH, interviews members of the College of Medicine community about their lives, their journeys in medicine, and their thoughts on diversity in medical practice and education.

In the interview below, Dr. McCrea talks with Rita Guevara, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics and assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Drexel University College of Medicine. Read on to get to know Dr. Guevara, and learn even more about her life and career in the latest episode of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion's podcast "Conversations That Matter."

Leon McCrea (LM): You know, one of the things that our audience really cares about is understanding your path and your journey. Can you share with us what motivated you to pursue a career in medicine?

Rita Guevara (RG): Growing up, my family would always place an emphasis on health: for us, health was wealth. It didn't matter what issues we were going through, what struggles we were facing — if we had our health, we were doing okay. Having that kind of perspective on health and accessing health was something that really drove me to want to contribute to that for others. Apparently ever since I was little, I was saying I wanted to be a doctor.

I also remember growing up and seeing how many of my family members had to access health care in a language that they were not familiar with, or not as comfortable with, and some of the blatant racism and discrimination that they unfortunately faced. I remember really wanting to be a solution to that. I think that's driven a lot of the areas I focus on and continue to advocate in within medicine. So, it was a combination of seeing medicine as this magical thing where they just kind of ask you questions and poke around and then they know what's wrong with you and they can help you feel better, and really appreciating the wealth that is associated with having good health.

LM: So, you had this vision, but what made you decide that that Drexel University College of Medicine was the place for you?

RG: It was through a good friend of mine from college who had done Drexel Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) the year before me. It's a one-year, very intense early assurance program. It’s basically a way for amazing, talented individuals to translate their strengths and gifts into measures that the medical school looks at like, "This is exactly what we look for in students." So my friend Ella was in the program and I was at a point where I had already applied to medical school, and I did not do a great job of that. And I was trying to collect myself, knowing that this was the goal, this was my path, but not really feeling like I had a good way of getting there. So, Ella told me about this program. I applied and was fortunately accepted, and I really got to know Drexel and its mission — and the rest is history, as they say.

LM: What a wonderful way to able to figure out that the College of Medicine was going to be your home. What made you decide, “I need to stay here”?

RG: It was a few things. I fell in love with Philly. I grew up in northern Virginia, I went to college in Baltimore, and then moved to up to Philly for DPMS. And it's such a wonderful city to live in, to explore restaurants — I love eating and trying different foods — but it was also just such a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the various communities surrounding the medical school, and then the clinical sites where I spent time. I'm sure there are equally wonderful patients in northern Virginia that I would have the privilege of taking care of. But here in Philly, I just have learned so much from my patients and their families as a pediatrician, and really have started to reflect on how it's made me a better physician. I'm forever indebted to them for that and want to continue to advocate for them in the ways that I can as a pediatrician, and by really helping support the next generation of my colleagues to learn how to advocate effectively.

And it's a combination, really, of the patients and the people who I get to work with. I felt that Drexel and St. Chris, where I work now, have always been collegial environments. They’re not malignant, cutthroat environments. Everyone shares a goal of "How can we help each other learn more? How can we help each other take the best care of patients?" I've always really appreciated that.

LM: Awesome. So, I would love to maybe dig a little bit deeper in terms of what some of your professional roles are here within the College of Medicine. Tell us a little bit about Rita Guevara and her day-to-day.

RG: So, it depends on what day it is. I alternate between clinical days and what I call administrative days, where I'm more doing meetings and things like that. I also have some educational lectures and things that I do for fourth-year Drexel students who do the advocacy rotation at St. Chris, with Dr. Stacy Ellen. I have a lecture I give with them on cultural humility. And then I have a wonderful colleague Dr. Vanessa Durand who I work with at St. Chris. She's a pediatric hospitalist, and we've been looking at the current curriculum for our residency program and how we can augment what's there to reflect culturally effective care. We're always looking for opportunities to kind of infuse more of those themes of cultural humility, diversity, equity and inclusion in the curriculum that the trainees get, because that's the reality of medicine.

LM: Absolutely, absolutely. And with that, I feel like you've talked a little bit about where you are, but what is on your horizon professionally?

RG: A couple of things. I've been in conversation with senior leadership at St. Chris to expand the bilingual provider certifications from just being in the outpatient clinic to being throughout the institution. I've been very fortunate to get a lot of support in the outpatient clinical space to really change the culture of how we look at communication with patients, especially those whose preferred language is not English. Part of what I see in the future is really kind of ramping that up to encompass an institution-wide culture change. I'm looking forward to continuing to kind of move the needle in the clinical spaces where I'm at for that.

And then on the med school side, it's been really trippy, but fun, to be on the faculty end of DPMS, having gone through it as a student. I’m continuing to see how I can further support the DPMS students. The curriculum has undergone so many great changes since I was a student. And we've had these conversations before, right? It's not so much getting people here, it's like, "How can we support them and give them what they need so that they can do their thing," right? All of these folks are wonderful and so talented, and they just have so much to offer their future patients. So how can we give them everything that they deserve and everything we wish we had so that they feel prepared to do that effectively?

LM: I'm going to jump a little bit: One of your hats as a diversity dean is really leaning into the space. And I love this word, "diversity bonus." When I say "diversity bonus," what does that mean to you?

RG: It means a lot. [Laughs]. It means really seeing how multifaceted medicine is, patient care, and how important people's different perspectives are in better understanding how we need to take care of our patients.

For my personal experience, I'm an immigrant. I speak more than one language. I know what it's like to have barriers to care, not so much for myself, but for those in my family, those I care about. I feel like understanding those perspectives makes me more attuned to other barriers, for instance for other folks who speak other languages. It helps me keep in mind, "What is my goal? How can I do my job?" Because the goal is do your job. Your job is to take care of patients, to be a source of reliable health information for them and support them in making the best decision for their health. You can't tell people what to do, and you shouldn't. [Laughs] Your job is to support them, give them the information they need, and they're going to make the best decisions for themselves and for their families. And it’s important to have the humility to understand that, and understand that I don't know everything; I'm learning from my colleagues, I'm learning from my patients. The more diversity there is in thought and experience, the better we do that collectively.

LM: Absolutely. So, we're diverse, we're trying to create this equity, but it really is about inclusivity at the end of the day. One of the analogies I like to use is that you feel included if you can go into that space, open up the refrigerator, take something out without asking permission. That's how you know you’re comfortable in a space. So how do we get everyone to feel that degree of inclusivity within the College of Medicine?

RG: It's inviting in everyone. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work is not meant to just be done by DEI people. We've talked about this, how the goal is to have everyone see how this impacts their spaces. I would love to get to a point where we are obviously included in all of the conversations, but we're not assumed to be the DEI people dealing with the DEI thing, and everyone else handles the other stuff. Teaching people how to make it their own when it comes to DEI work is going to be a key factor in that inclusion piece. I usually think of intersectionality in the inclusion umbrella as well. I think it is so important to share and understand not just different identities, but also how they intersect, and how that affects people on an individual or group level.

It's making people realize that it's an everyone issue, and it's on everyone to make meaningful contributions and to not be afraid. Sometimes people might feel hesitant to do this work because they don't want to "step in it," as they say, but understanding and there being a level of trust in their colleagues that they'll get supported and that we’ll call it out — or rather, call them in — if there are things that need to better align with the overall mission.

LM: Awesome. All right, Dr. Guevara, any closing or remarks that you want to make sure you share with us today?

RG: All you can do is your best. Remember that and don't be afraid to reach out. People can't help you if they don't know what's going on. The time is over for you to be in your head and trying to manage that chip on your shoulder like, "Oh, I just need to persevere." Of course you continue to work hard, but seeking support from people that you trust and who you know will be supportive of you is the best thing.

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