Message from Dr. Walter Clair
Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion
In either junior high or high school, I read a book called “The Ox Bow Incident.” Henry Fonda starred in the movie version of this tragic story involving three men, two white and one Mexican, who were lynched for crimes they did not commit. Typically, when we think of these extra-judicial killings, we envision a Black person accused of a crime that affords a southern white community the occasion to exhibit the unencumbered use of violence to shore its white supremacy. As a young student from racially segregated Chicago, I was aware of story of Emmett Till. I knew that there was always the threat of white rage if I were to stray into the wrong neighborhood. However, when I read “The Ox Bow Incident,” I began to understand that Black people were not the only people who were victims of lynching in this country. I have since learned that extra-judicial killing without fear of credible interference from or accountability to law enforcement has been a longstanding feature of U.S. and world history.

Whether it is the Holocaust, Rwanda, or Ukraine, hate crimes are not committed uniquely by or against any singular group of people. Sadly, humans seem to find a way to strike out against one another. Nonetheless, lynching in the U.S. is particularly hypocritical in that we pride ourselves on being a nation of laws where people are considered innocent until proven guilty. I guess I missed the footnotes that the laws and the presumption of innocence have not always applied to everyone. They certainly did not apply in in October of 1871 when a mob stormed into a Chinese quarter of Los Angeles, and shot, stabbed and hung 19 Chinese victims. Nor, when Ephraim and Henry Grizzard were lynched in Middle Tennessee in 1892.  The killing of George Floyd almost two years ago makes a strong case that we are still falling short of equal protection under our laws. 
I was reminded of the Grizzard story while recently visiting the Legacy Museum of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Ala. Influenced by the late Paul Farmer, the CEO of the EJI has been assessing the role that the EJI might play with regard to the challenges of prison health care and health disparities (read more on that here). I was among several Vanderbilt colleagues invited to convene at the EJI headquarters and museums with other health care workers from the region. That was not my first visit to Montgomery. I had visited there several years ago and paid my respect at the Memorial for Peace and Justice, which has as its central feature hanging stone slabs. On these slabs are engraved the names of thousands of Black people who had been lynched. The names are grouped by state and county. The names of the Gizzard brothers are in the center of Davidson County slab.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act was signed into law on March 29, 2022. It defines lynching as any conspired, bias-motivated offense which results in death or serious bodily injury, and it makes lynching a federal hate crime. Sadly, the attack that occurred in Buffalo, New York, this past weekend makes the case that this newly signed act, while important, is an insufficient deterrent. Stalking their victims in the places where they worship and shop, racial terrorists continue to commit acts of violence that are fueled by a mixture of racial animus, easy access to guns, and some component of mental instability. Because they commit their acts of hatred as “lone wolves,” this allows the instigators and provocateurs to feign innocence. 

What can we do? What should we do? If I knew for sure, I certainly would not keep it to myself. As health care providers, we are motivated to diagnose and treat when we observe a threat to health and well-being. We use research evidence to refine our care and update our recommendations to our patients. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that our “scientific” approach may fall short when we step outside our academic bubble and engage with the general public and the “body politic.” I think racial violence is a public health menace, and as we learn to do our homework and communicate more effectively, I support those who think that health care providers have more to offer than thoughts and prayers. Our racial equity efforts, though focused on health, can contribute to the efforts to make all zip codes places where people of color are safe. 

Professor of Medicine (Cardiovascular Medicine)
Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion
Department of Medicine
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Relevant Links

  • New England Journal of Medicine: "Sticks and Stones - Confronting the Full Spectrum of Racism" Read here)
  • New England Journal of Medicine: "Rooting Out Gun Violence" (Read here)
Watch Now: May Leadership Assembly Video Outlines Transformational Racial Equity Plan

Vanderbilt University Medical Center leaders, including Department of Medicine faculty and Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, Professor of Medicine (Geriatric Medicine) and VUMC Sr. Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence, are launching a transformational effort to foster an inclusive environment to ensure people at all levels of the organization experience a welcoming environment where everyone can thrive. The plan was outlined at last week's Leadership Assembly.
Study: Gene Variants and Transplant Drug Dose

Vanderbilt researchers including Department of Medicine Drs. Ciara Shaver (Allergy/Pulmonary) and Kelly Birdwell (Nephrology and Hypertension), reported in Pharmacogenetics and Genomics that genotyping multiple enzymes that metabolize the immunosuppressive drug tacrolimus — common used for lung transplant recipients — is important for correct dosing of the drug.
Probiotics May Reduce Cardiovascular Risk for Heavy-drinking HIV Patients

With $7 million in funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Matthew Freiberg, MD, Professor of Medicine (Cardiovascular Medicine), has designed a two-part study to determine whether probiotics can help reduce cardiovascular risk among people with HIV who are heavy drinkers.
Kahwash Featured in NYT Magazine

Basil Kahwash, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine), was featured in a New York Times Magazine article, "Her Rash Wouldn't Go Away, and the Itch Was Ruining Her Life," published last week. The article details his patient's symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of a months long rash, which ultimately resulted from a meat allergy.
VUMC Culture Survey Remains Open Through Tomorrow - Complete Your Survey Today!

The VUMC Culture Survey remains open through tomorrow, May 17. Full- and part-time Medical Center staff as of March 4 have been asked to take the engagement and safety portions of the VUMC Culture Survey. Faculty, fellows, house staff and advanced practice providers have been invited to participate in the safety culture survey (specifics dependent on your role). Separately, this group received from the Office of Faculty Affairs instructions for completion of the 2022 Faculty Satisfaction and Well-Being Survey. For the first time, house staff can also take the engagement portion of the survey. Nurses, including APRNs in staff and faculty roles, will also take the nursing section of the survey, which features 19 questions that focus on nurse engagement and satisfaction as well as their commitment to the patient experience.

On May 3, eligible employees received a personalized email with a unique link to participate in the culture survey. The email was sent to your email address from VUMC Culture Survey with the subject line “Your Voice, Your VUMC — Take the VUMC Culture Survey Today!”

Help the Department of Medicine achieve its goal of having a 100% completion rate by completing the Culture Survey - your feedback is important to us!
2022-2023 Doximity Residency Navigator Physician Survey Now Open

Physician surveys are now open for the 2022-2023 Doximity Residency Navigator, a tool 90% of medical students use to learn about residency programs. If you are registered with Doximity, please consider completing the Nomination and/or Satisfaction surveys by June 3. This is a vital aspect of the department's recruitment, and participation is very appreciated. Thank you!
Thursday Medicine Grand Rounds

The Department of Medicine and Harrison Society will host this Thursday's Medicine Grand Rounds presented by Ismael A. Qushmaq, MD, FRCPC, FACP, Consultant Intensivist, Section of Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, will present. The lecture, "Revisiting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - Clinical Course and Treatment," will take place this Thursday, May 19, at 8 a.m. CT via Zoom.
Next Anti-Racism Discussion Group Meeting Set for June 14

The next Department of Medicine Anti-Racism Discussion Group meeting is happening at noon on June 14 via Zoom.

The goal for this group is to create a community that can come together to learn about, reflect upon, and put into practice anti-racism concepts. All faculty, staff and trainees are welcome to join even if you have not done the reading.

The group will be discussing Kelly Yang's "New From Here" and Julie J. Park's "Race on Campus: Debunking Myths with Data." You may borrow one of the three copies of these books that are shelved in the department's open library, located in the Rogers Conference Room.

In an effort to promote the exciting work being done throughout the department, colleagues are encouraged to submit news and information that may be considered for promotion in the department's weekly newsletter, on social media or in relevant Medical Center publications.
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