As an academic medical center located in the heart of the former capital of the Confederacy, the VCU School of Medicine – like Richmond itself – has a complex history and an evolving present. On Aug. 6, as part of a revamped Transition to Medical School program, the incoming class of M1s, along with current VCU medical students, were invited to join a series of crucial conversations that addressed the legacy of racism.

The three conversations, moderated by Dr. Kevin Harris, interim senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, focused on the history of Richmond and the VCU School of Medicine, the East Marshall Street Well Project and health equity in the Richmond community. The panelists were:

  • Kevin Allison, senior executive for special projects in VCU’s Office of the President
  • Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments
  • Keli Doe, M4 medical student
  • Carmen Foster, principal consultant at Forward and Wise Consulting and member of the Family Representative Council for the East Marshall Street Well Project
  • Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact for VCU Health System
  • Jodi Koste, head of the Health Sciences Library’s special collections and archives
  • Delegate Delores McQuinn, representative for the 70th district in the Virginia House of Delegates
  • John Moeser, professor emeritus of urban studies and planning at VCU
  • Mark Ryan, medical director of the Hayes E. Willis Health Center and the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship
  • T’Keyah Vaughan, M1 medical student

“This series of conversations was something that our students asked for, and we are grateful to all the faculty, staff, students and community members who participated and shared an unvarnished look at the history of our city and school as well as their personal stories and reflections,” said Dr. Peter Buckley, dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “By bringing greater awareness of systemic racism and social determinants of health to our future physicians, we are empowering them with the knowledge to better understand and serve their patients and community.”

This is because, as Dr. Allison noted, “when a patient comes into the room, they don’t just come with a personal history; they come with [a] community history.”

For Black communities in and around Richmond, this history involves slavery, segregation and redlining practices that have affected communities for generations. Panelists elucidated this history to set the context for caring for patients in our community by sharing their personal perspectives.

“These issues that started 400 years ago, that people died for 150 years ago, and that even more people died for 70 years ago are still very much prevalent today,” medical student Keli Doe said. “The onus is on us as the future medical professionals to take the actual steps necessary to resolve these issues … Taking active measures is getting to know your community, getting to know the problems that are embedded in your community and getting involved and engaged to fix those problems.”

Following the panels, first-year students had the opportunity to discuss what they had heard and learned in small groups.

“Our thanks go to our medical students for enabling these first ‘crucial conversations’ about our history and our path forward,” Dr. Buckley said. “We will seek to build and improve on these discussions in the coming year.”

Recordings of all three crucial conversations sessions are available on the School of Medicine’s DEI website.