After some pushback a year ago, the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania is moving forward with a new vision for diversity and inclusion.

 

Changes include a new question for prospective students.

When candidates are invited to interview in Philadelphia, Penn now asks them if they want information on the school's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"It's mostly for us to show them that there are a lot of resources here for those students and it's a great place to be," said Lauren Sinnenberg, a second-year medical student.

Candidates are asked to declare their interest in the community not their sexual orientation. Contact information for prospective students is shared with existing student groups who connect with candidates and help tailor campus visits, said Gail Morrison, senior vice dean for education at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.

"I think it's natural for some students to be nervous about, maybe, how the information is going to be used," said Sinnenberg, co-chair of LGBTPM Plus, a campus group for LGBT people in medicine and others interested in LGBT health care.

Sinnenberg said she likes the fact that Penn has broadened the list of things it uses to help students feel welcome.

"It shows how open we are and interested we are in supporting the community," she said. "It's a way of saying, 'This is an issue we are aware of and want to talk about.'"

Sinnenberg said she doesn't think students who express an interest in the LGBT community will get extra credit from the medical school selection committee.

"We don't have any quotas," Morrison said. "However we are looking to make sure that we have broad representation across diverse groups, but not selectively looking at we need "X" kind of a person."

The University of Pennsylvania established an Office of Minority Affairs in 1968, becoming one of the first medical schools to directly support minority student recruitment and retention. The office — later named the Office for Diversity and Community Outreach -- was disbanded in the summer of 2012.

Protests and an online petition followed that decision. Some community members worried about how the school would continue its tradition of diversity.

Penn no longer has a vice dean of minority affairs. In August, Penn got its first vice dean for diversity and inclusion, Eve Higginbotham. Morrison said Higginbotham was hired for an expanded role.

"A whole group of things that were more than just race," Morrison said. "It's now race, it's gender, it's beliefs, etc."

Higginbotham's position extends across PennMedicine, including the institution's education, clinical and research operations.

It's not just "medical students," Morrison said, but also "interns, residents, faculty, and fellows."