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Tera F. Howard: Seeking the ‘Magic’ in a Diverse Physician Workforce

March 24, 2022

Tera F. Howard, M.D., isn’t just leading conversations about increasing diversity in medicine — she’s actively working to make it a reality. Howard, assistant professor in Dell Medical School’s Department of Women’s Health, recruits and supports physicians from underrepresented backgrounds in pursuit of a physician workforce as diverse as the patients served.

Can you characterize the need for a diverse physician workforce?

In medicine, the patient population is changing: It’s becoming more and more diverse. Unfortunately, the physician workforce does not reflect that diversity.

Having a diverse physician workforce leads to better patient-provider relationships, better trust between communities and the health care system, and better patient outcomes. It is for these reasons that I have devoted my efforts to this crucial cause.

What steps must be taken to support those who are underrepresented in medicine?

In order to increase diversity in the physician workforce in Austin and the U.S., we have to recognize how systemic racism has historically excluded certain groups from the field of medicine. Then, we must work hard to build anti-racist structures that recruit diverse individuals into medicine.

While they practice medicine, we must support these individuals so that they don’t leave medicine behind. Finally, we also have to create opportunities for leadership and advancement for those groups underrepresented in medicine.

I see what magic happens when there is patient-provider racial concordance. I’ve experienced it both as a provider and a patient.

Tera Howard, M.D., MPH

How does your position enable you to work toward those goals?

At Dell Med, I serve as the director of diversity for graduate medical education. As the first person in this position, I have the privilege of creating infrastructure for recruitment and retention of diverse residents.

For example, I work closely with the GME programs to track their application, interview and ranking processes — and give feedback about those processes to identify opportunities for improvement and close any gaps. Additionally, I created a mentorship program for Dell Med students and residents from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine to obtain mentorship from faculty in their self-identified areas of need.

What makes you positioned to solve this problem?

My experiences as a Black woman in academic medicine fuel my passion for this work. I know what it’s like to be educated in and to practice medicine in an environment where not many people look like me.

On the flip side, I see what magic happens when there is patient-provider racial concordance. I’ve experienced this phenomenon both as a provider and a patient. Diversity in health care matters on many levels and for many reasons.

Dell Med’s mission is to revolutionize how people get and stay healthy. What’s yours?

My mission is to give all people, regardless of race, a fair opportunity to enter, remain and thrive in this wonderful profession called medicine. It has been, and continues to be, my honor to take care of patients and to impact learners.

This news feature is part of Dell Med’s Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.