Dr. Donna Jackson becomes chair of the AAMC’s National Committee on Student Diversity Affairs
Donna Jackson, Ed.D., earns a national appointment to support student diversity in academic medicine.
March 9, 2023
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Group on Student Affairs appointed Donna Jackson, Ed.D., assistant dean for admissions, director of student outreach and inaugural co-chair of the Inclusion Council at VCU School of Medicine, to a three-year term as chair of the National Committee on Student Diversity Affairs (COSDA).
One of five national committees within the AAMC Group on Student Affairs, COSDA provides guidance on diversity in student recruitment, admissions, enrollment, retention and graduation at medical schools across the U.S.
“It’s an honor being appointed to this role,” Jackson said. “This position gives me the opportunity to make a bigger footprint through the lens of student diversity. I want people to know that DEI is something that VCU truly cares about and for current and prospective students to feel welcomed in our environment.”
Among her initial goals as chair, Jackson aims to promote loan forgiveness programs for medical students, develop regulatory processes for financial aid and continue advocacy of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within academic medicine.
Molded by others
While the COSDA appointment represents an individual achievement, Jackson recognizes the role that others have played throughout her journey. From a young age, Jackson was inspired by her mother, who served underrepresented students as a school counselor, to work in education. That goal led to a career in utilizing DEI initiatives to aid the development of future health care practitioners.
Jackson also credits her colleagues at VCU for their role in her career.
“The mentorship that I’ve had in the space of admissions molded me into who I am today,” Jackson said. “Michelle Whitehurst-Cook has been very supportive and encouraging in my DEI work.”
Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., senior associate dean for admissions, has seen the impact of Jackson’s work and considers her national appointment “a win” for VCU. After witnessing her leadership in programs designed to support student success and address DEI-related subjects, Whitehurst-Cook commended Jackson for her commitment.
“Jackson’s outstanding efforts are not just programmatic, but daily in support of the medical students,” Whitehurst-Cook said. “She is a leader in the School of Medicine on DEI topics and has helped our dean work through many concerns that were important to our students.”
Though this role gives her the opportunity to continue supporting students on a national level, Jackson believes that her appointment will show how much VCU School of Medicine values DEI.
“My plan is to use this role as another way to put VCU’s name out there in the space of DEI,” Jackson said.
Developing the future
This appointment represents the culmination of a career-long dedication to supporting medical students. For example, as director of student outreach, she was a key contributor in creating the Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP). The SAEP is a six-week summer program for students preparing to apply to a medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or physical therapy school or program.
The program simulates the first year in a dentistry, medicine, pharmacy or physical therapy program, where participants receive academic instruction in relation to their chosen program and attend developmental workshops and professional seminars.
“The SAEP has enhanced our recruitment efforts from diverse populations,” Whitehurst-Cook said. “It has been very successful in building a student’s strengths and motivation for a career in medicine.”
‘Everyone deserves a chance’
Just as her mother’s work influenced her to pursue a career in education, Jackson’s impact has motivated students to realize their calling. During a panel discussion about the representation of Black faculty in academic medicine, Reuben Davis, M1, social chair of VCU’s Student National Medical Association and Class of 2026 president, spoke about what Jackson’s mentorship means to him.
“She is a case study on how to be a great mentor,” Davis said. “She’s basically the reason why I’m in medical school.”
Davis explained that while he was applying to medical school, he didn’t feel encouraged by his previous pre-medical adviser, who used what he called a uniform approach with all students. He later met Jackson, who filled in that gap by providing personalized support and guidance through the application process, highlighting his strengths and weaknesses and helping him address them.
“In the moments I fell short, she helped me regroup and stay the course, providing the assurance and path I needed to achieve my goal of getting into medical school,” Davis said. “I truly wouldn't be here today without her.”
As one of the school’s many advocates for advancing the state of medicine through DEI initiatives, Jackson said the greatest joy of her work is the impact she can have on the lives of future medical practitioners from all demographics.
“Everyone deserves a chance to achieve whatever their version of success is,” Jackson said. “Whether they want to be a doctor, teacher or street sweeper, there needs to be a person in place to help them.”