Sinai Health System, which owns and manages Mount Sinai Medical Center in North Lawndale, is currently trying to recruit more Black and Brown medical residents. 

Dr. Gina Walton, Sinai Health’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said that recruiting more doctors who look like their patients and share their patients’ socioeconomic backgrounds has a tangible impact on those patients’ health. 

“When we have physician/patient concordance, we see improvement in health outcomes,” she said. “Our community is largely Black and Latino, and our hospital has very few Black and Latino [doctors].”

Late last year, Sinai teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois to recruit more medical students who belong to Underrepresented in Medicine (URIM) minority groups – African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. Given the health system’s demographics, they are putting particular emphasis on the first two groups. 

Sinai officials said they are doing their outreach push now, as medical students are looking to find hospitals where they can complete their residencies. The health system is also changing its process for evaluating candidates, hoping this results in more inclusion. Sinai is also in the early stages of working with area high schools and colleges to get more young people of color to study medicine. 

According to Walton, North Lawndale’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, 1500 S Fairfield Ave., the health system’s flagship hospital, offers five residency programs: internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, OB-GYN, and physical medicine and rehabilitation.  

Last year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield launched the Health Equity Hospital Quality Incentive Pilot Program. The COVID-19 pandemic threw the existing healthcare inequities into sharp relief and, according to a statement issued at the time, the health insurance company wanted to launch programs “aimed at  improving health care outcomes in minority groups, increasing the diversity and cultural competency of the physician workforce and advancing awareness on implicit bias.”

The pilot program is providing funding and resources to help hospitals that serve Black and Hispanic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with the long-term goal of “improving the quality of care by elevating a focus on health equity and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in care.”

A screenshot of Sinai’s The residency program website, which features photos and biographies of minority residents who already work at Sinai hospitals and clinics; sections written in both English and Spanish; and a page with Dr. Gina Walton’s testimonial about her own experience as a Black, Spanish-speaking woman in the medical field.

As Walton noted during the interview, hospitals don’t accept medical residents directly. They use the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP). After hospitals interview the candidates, candidates and hospitals rank each other. The computer program then uses the rankings to “match” candidates and hospitals. This means the process is as much about hospitals making a good impression on the candidates as it is about candidates making a good impression on the hospitals.

The matches will be made in March 2022. Walton said that their goal is to increase the number of matches by 10 percent next year.

Walton said that Sinai is taking a multi-prong approach toward achieving that goal. The residency program website features photos and biographies of minority residents who already work at Sinai hospitals and clinics; several sections are written in both English and Spanish; and there is a page with Walton’s testimonial about her own experience as a Black, Spanish-speaking woman in the medical field. 

There is also a section on the hospital’s commitments to its residents, which include “no code-switching,” not shying away from discussing racism and providing support “as if people’s lives depend on it, because they [do].” 

“[We area] literally putting faces of people who look like them on the website, speaking the language that’s understood by them to make them feel more included and represented,” Walton said.

Sinai is also reaching out to Black and Hispanic medical student associations. Walton organized several virtual open houses for candidates and she said she is making herself available to minority candidates who might have questions and concerns.

“I find that students of color [in particular] have been contacting me directly, trying to get a better understanding of Sinai,” she said. 

At the same time, Walton said, Sinai reconsidering how it evaluates candidates. Instead of just looking at their records, they are looking at their backgrounds and other factors that may help them relate to patients.

“[If] they’re African-American and grew up on the West Side, that’s going to help them,” Walton said.

Finally, Walton said that Sinai is mindful of the fact that “ultimately, there are really not enough Black, Latinx, and Native/Alaskan people” studying to be doctors, so they wanted to help establish “pathways” for students from elementary school onward to get into the profession. 

She said that she has already started conducting outreach at Chicago high schools and colleges, where she talks about the challenges students of color typically face in the industry and outlines the career path into medicine. 

Walton said that it’s important to get students to see that medicine is a field they can pursue. 

“When they look in the mirror, they need to have confidence,” she said. “Even though Black and Latinx and Native American students have systematically been excluded, we are making the way toward improvement, where they can become represented in medicine.”

For more information about Sinai’s medical residency programs, visit https://residency.sinaichicago.org/