Vanderbilt LEND Training Program Receives Supplemental Funding to Address Trainee Diversity

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Increasing racial and ethnic diversity among its pool of long-term trainees is a top priority for the Vanderbilt Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Training Program. The Vanderbilt LEND has received supplemental funding from the Interdisciplinary Technical Assistance Center on Autism and Developmental Disabilities of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) that will allow the LEND to forge deeper partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, to build awareness of the LEND program among underrepresented minority students who have been accepted to professional schools, and to foster greater interest in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities among undergraduate minority students.

“We know that it takes a team of health care professionals to provide excellent care to individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families,” said Tyler Reimschisel, M.D., LEND director, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Neurology, and director of the Division of Developmental Medicine. “The more diverse the team is, the better the care will be. For example, since different ethnic and cultural groups view developmental disabilities differently, the presence of team members from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds will help us meet the needs of all patients and families. This funding will help us foster interest in this field among future health care professionals, and in time it will help us reach our ultimate goal of providing better care to our patients and their families.”

To increase diversity within the trainee cohorts, the first order of business is addressing the lack of diversity among program applicants. The pool of candidates from Master’s and graduate level programs from which LEND trainees are selected rarely includes underrepresented minorities, despite longstanding LEND collaborations among Vanderbilt University, Fisk University, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, and Meharry Medical College. Therefore, the first task will be to redesign recruitment materials to emphasize the importance of diversity among health care professionals and to sponsor information sessions about the LEND program for students who have been accepted into professional programs but have not yet selected the school where they will complete their health profession training.

While increasing awareness among students who are already accepted into professional programs, LEND faculty and staff also will work to increase the interest of working in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities among minority undergraduates. Plans are underway to connect with fraternities and sororities to provide community or advocacy events that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families through the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Because a critical component of the Greek system is the completion of community service projects, it is hoped that such partnerships will have far reaching benefits for all involved.

“This really is an exciting opportunity to heighten awareness of disability and diversity issues and to bring more minority professionals into the field,” said Machelle Thompson, RDH, MSPH, assistant dean of Clinical Affairs at Meharry Medical College and director of the Vanderbilt LEND Multicultural Initiative. “It is crucial for students who are in the early stages or pre-stages of their careers to see health care professionals from underrepresented minorities who are currently working in the field. We plan to facilitate exposure by developing a short video in which minority health care professionals who serve individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities are interviewed about the factors that led them to choose their professions and the multitude of benefits in these careers. There is no doubt in my mind that doors will be opened, and I look forward to ushering many new health care professionals across that threshold.”

For information about the Vanderbilt LEND program, contact lend@vanderbilt.edu.

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