Our final EDI Spotlight of 2022 shines on Julius Wilder, MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist and Chair of the Department of Medicine’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Antiracism committee (DEIAR). Wilder talks to us about balancing his oversight of efforts to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within his Department while still practicing clinical care. He also talks about how his doctorate in medical sociology complements his perspective as a clinician, his hopes for reducing health disparities in our local community, and his loves of jazz, time with family, and watching Duke basketball when he’s not at work.
What are your responsibilities within the Department of Medicine? What does a typical day look like for you?
I serve as the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Antiracism committee (DEIAR). In this role, I partner with departmental leadership as well as the Vice Chief of DEI for each division in the Department of Medicine on initiatives and policies related to DEI. I also serve as the Vice Chair for the Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee and Vice Chief of DEI for the GI Division.
I also serve as the Co-Chair for the Duke Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERI). In this role I partner with CERI leadership and community partners to support the translation of community based participatory research in Duke Health system and the Durham community.
I am still a practicing hepatologist and gastroenterologist. Hence, on days where I am not in departmental meetings, I am either rounding at Duke, performing procedures such as colonoscopies, or seeing patients in my liver clinic.
What are some of the current issues relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion within the field of gastroenterology, and how do they compare to the same issues within academic medicine in general?
There are many examples of health inequities and injustice in gastroenterology and hepatology. This includes disparities in colon cancer screening, access to liver transplantation, and treatment for hepatitis C. While the diseases are unique to the disciplines of gastroenterology and hepatology, the underlying mechanisms that contribute to these health disparities mirror those social drivers of health known to cause health disparities across the spectrum of medicine.
Within the Department of Medicine, you’re the Vice Chair for both the Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee as well as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Division of Gastroenterology. What are your key roles and priorities for each of these positions? What are some of the ways that the Department of Medicine hopes to address these issues?
As Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Antiracism committee (DEIAR), I work with leaders across the Department of medicine to create effective tangible policies in 4 major areas: education, research, climate/career development, and clinical care. This work focuses on diversity in every way it can be defined, ensuring equity for all members of the Department of Medicine.
My work as Vice Chair for the Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee (MRRC) focuses specifically on policies and initiatives to ensure successful recruitment and retention of Black faculty within the Department of Medicine, the largest Department with full time faculty at Duke University.
In addition to your position within the Department of Medicine, you’re also an assistant professor of sociology. What work does that involve, and how does your expertise in sociology inform your perspective as a clinician?
My PhD is in Medical Sociology and I hold a secondary appointment in that Department. My training there significantly informs all the work that I do. Much of my research focuses on the role of fundamental causes of disease in the etiology of heath disparities. I leverage my training on fundamental causes of disease in sociology to inform not only my research agenda, but to provide insight for me on the potential barriers to care my patients may experience.
Do you have a moment or experience when the need for improving inclusion, equity, and diversity in academic medicine (or the country as a whole) felt especially urgent to you personally that you could share?
For me there is no singular moment where improving inclusion, equity, and diversity in academic medicine (or the country as a whole) felt especially urgent. Many of us here at Duke and across the United States were researching disparities and active in health equity and social justice well before the recent national movements related to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It is my hope that these moments will urge others to engage in this work with those of us who have fought the good fight for so many years. And that this won’t be a moment, but truly a sustained movement to address health inequities and health disparities in the United States.
In what area of the EDI sphere do you see the School of Medicine having improved the most since you first came to Duke?
I am excited about the infrastructure for work in the DEI space we have built in the Department of Medicine. Specifically, the new Vice Chiefs for DEI within each division. This framework ensures transparency and clarity as we attempt to improve equity in the Department. The infrastructure we have built within the Department of Medicine will ensure the policies we create are tangible across the entire Department and will result in sustainable change that can be measured over time.
What changes are you most hopeful to see in the next five to 10 years?
Duke Health has the potential to focus on and eliminate health disparities within the Durham community through community partnerships and engagement with local and state government. This will take a focused effort on specific diseases (such as hepatitis C), but it is possible given our expertise and resources. I am hopeful to see us as a health system in the near future leverage our population health resources to identify and eliminate health disparities in the Durham community.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of Duke?
I spend most of my free time with my family. I enjoy sports, especially football and Duke basketball. I am a percussionist, my favorite music to listen to is jazz, and I love great food and wine.