Practice Management

5 Concrete Steps We Take in Our Office to Put DEI Principles Into Action

Dr. Bilal with his practice team. Dr. Bilal says that diversity, equity and inclusion doesn't happen by accident. He and his team take specific actions to live out this value in their office everyday.

Dr. Ahmad (far right in tan shirt) with his practice team. Dr. Ahmad says that diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t happen by accident. He and his team take specific actions to live out this value in their office everyday.

What you can do to make DEI a reality in your office.

By Bilal Ahmad, OD

March 6, 2024

It’s one thing to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and another to make sure your practice lives up to those principles. Here are actions we take to ensure our office environment is truly what we have said we want it to be.

What DEI Means to Our Practice

DEI is personal for me. As a first-generation Palestinian-American and Arab-American, I grew up often feeling like I didn’t know where I belonged. I was “too Arab” for some people I knew and “too American” for others. Eventually, I learned that this country’s diversity is one of the things that makes it so amazing. We’re all different, but we’re all part of the same community.

The experience made me want to be very inclusive and welcoming in my practice.

We’re fortunate to have a community in Lexington, Ky., that’s very diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and abilities. We want our practice to reflect that diversity and welcome everyone, making DEI a meaningful part of our fabric and identity.

Being Inclusive in Languages Spoken

Creating a welcoming practice for everyone goes beyond creating a friendly atmosphere. One of our focus areas is language.

English was a second language for my mother, and I remember how embarrassed she felt when she couldn’t communicate at the doctor’s office. With the right combination of DEI and technology, it doesn’t have to be awkward.

We have a large Latin community, so we think Spanish language services are important. We offer intake forms in Spanish, and several staff members and doctors (including me) speak Spanish. Patients can come to the office, fill out their paperwork and receive care in Spanish.

Our staff and doctors speak several other languages as well, but when we don’t, we have great audio/video translating software that enables us to communicate easily with all our patients.

The effect is that patients feel comfortable and welcome, which makes us happy. They tell their friends, so word of our practice gets out to a variety of communities in the city and attracts more patients to our door.

Hire a Staff of Varying Backgrounds

We found that having an environment that embraces diversity attracts a diverse staff. As we embrace patients from every background and they tell their friends, some of those friends become our patients and occasionally become employees too. They see the environment we work in and how well we get along, and they ask if we’re hiring.

Over time, we’ve built an employee base that’s racially and ethnically diverse including folks who are Arab (me), Latin, African American, Eastern European, Nepalese and more. Staff diversity is self-perpetuating, since seeing people from different backgrounds encourages more people to apply and join our team.

Make DEI Part of Staff On-Boarding & Training

New hires go through several training modules with general instructions, and we discuss our philosophies of inclusion and welcoming everyone. We also explain our DEI efforts and our motivation for pursuing those efforts.

DEI brings in new patients and new hires, but we’ve embraced DEI because it reflects our genuine values and the place we want to be in the world.

Real-life examples are the best way to teach and learn how we want to do things in our office. We recently started discussing real-life scenarios from our office during staff meetings. We’ve talked about good and bad situations, the DEI aspects of the experiences, how we handled them, and how we can learn and improve moving forward. We can all improve by uncovering unconscious bias and recognizing the microaggressions we see in real life. I want to reduce that potential, starting with myself and continuing with everyone in the practice.

When we’re talking about the culture of DEI, we’re talking about a culture of kindness and empathy. We’re looking for staff that shares those traits. I’m projecting kindness and empathy from my position to the best of my ability, and I want our staff to do the same.

We also need to ensure all the doctors and staff have the skills to interact easily with people of all backgrounds. I mentioned how we not only accommodate, but really welcome, people who speak various languages. For that to work, we need to be  fluent with our video interpretation software. We need to use it seamlessly, not wrestle with it or regard it as a burden, or we’ll make patients uncomfortable. This approach has allowed us to connect with Lexington’s large Ukrainian population, many of whom come to us because they heard about our video interpretation services.

Make Vision Care More Accessible

We reached out to invest time in several under-served communities here in Lexington. This is horse country, and horse racing employs a lot of staff (jockeys, carriers, trainers and others) with little access to healthcare. We developed a program in our office to provide vision care for them at a reduced rate.

Another effort I’m proud of is my work volunteering on weekends alongside my wife, a dentist, in a free health clinic in a historically under-served part of town. We help patients with limited access to healthcare get the eye and dental care they need and help connect them to resources they need for ongoing help. It’s a bright spot for us.

Show Every Patient Respect

Our guiding principle is to do what’s best for our patients, which means not only providing the best care clinically, but also creating a comfortable, productive environment. That starts with respect. Our staff understands that we “never judge a book by its cover.” Every patient is equal. It’s a principle that has to start at the top, filter through our employees, and ultimately reach every patient so we can be as welcoming and as helpful as possible.

In the end, as a group, there’s no reluctance to “deal with” any patient—only a genuine desire to make every patient feel welcome in our practice.

Bilal Ahmad, ODBilal Ahmad, OD, is an associate with Kentucky Doctors of Optometry, practicing at Visionworks in Lexington, Ky. To contact him:

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