A champion for diversity, equity and inclusion at MD Anderson: Meet Ranna Parekh, M.D.
MD Anderson serves patients from across the globe while making its home in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. This means diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are inextricably linked to our mission to end cancer.
In May 2022, Ranna Parekh, M.D., joined MD Anderson as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. While MD Anderson had previous chief diversity officers, this expanded role enables the organization to have a leader also focused on equity and inclusion at the organization.
A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 14 years of experience in DEI leadership, Parekh is focused on strengthening MD Anderson’s cultural competencies and on building on our accolades as a national DEI leader. She collaborates with stakeholders throughout MD Anderson to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment that positively impacts our patients and their families, employee engagement and the communities we serve.
Parekh, who received her medical degree from Wayne State University and master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, completed her adult psychiatry and child fellowship residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.
We spoke with Parekh about her work and MD Anderson’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
What led you to a career in DEI leadership?
I was a child and adolescent psychiatrist for many years, and I have always had personal and professional interests in DEI. As a mental health professional, I practiced with a lens on cultural psychiatry and understood how the identities of my patients impacted my work.
I would say that the biggest influence on my career happened when I started my first year of residency training in psychiatry after medical school. As a result of the emphasis I placed on the role of diversity and cultures in people’s lives in my personal statement, I was introduced to renowned psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor Chester Pierce, M.D. He was the first Black full professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and served as my training supervisor for three years. Dr. Pierce coined the term “microaggressions” and was one of the first to talk about race in medicine. His research included understanding people who work in extreme environments. He taught me how important it is to create a sense of belonging for all people. Dr. Pierce has had a tremendous impact on my life, and so much of his work has influenced the way I think about DEI in health care.
Why did you choose to come to MD Anderson, and what have you learned since starting here last May?
I have been very fortunate to have had incredible opportunities throughout my career. When I left Massachusetts General and the intellectual power within Harvard, my roles at the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C. exposed me to the nonprofit health professional world and DEI efforts across the country.
During the pandemic, DEI leadership roles began to come to the forefront, and I had a strong desire to return to a hospital setting. My colleagues and friends would always talk about how MD Anderson was a premier cancer center with an international reach and reputation as a DEI leader. As I witnessed during my interview process and since joining this organization, there is such an affinity for bringing the best to our patients and each other every day.
One of the hardest words to talk about in health care is love, but that is what we bring into our work at MD Anderson. You see love in our behaviors. For example, people share how much they care about each other and how great their teams are. This cohesion and level of empathy and concern for each other translates to our patients. There is such attention placed on people, and this is what will help us reach the next transformational stage of DEI.
Why is DEI in health care so important?
Health care is about people. Patients do not just bring their health status to you; they bring everything that they are as an individual. While we emphasize adopting best practices, we also learn from our patients’ differences. Great health care providers pride themselves in delivering excellent, personalized care to everyone because people serve as the connector.
How does our diverse environment and culture impact the patient experience at MD Anderson?
Our diversity is incredibly valuable because patients want to see people from their communities as part of their care teams and people interested in their communities. It is critically impactful and builds trust when a patient can feel that someone on the team caring for them understands who they are. This is a component that we have at MD Anderson through our diverse workforce and commitment to inclusion, which helps us to forge relationships with our patients while delivering the very best patient-centric care. I also have heard that it can be daunting to come into a large organization and world-class hospital like MD Anderson, but we want to continue to break down those perceptions and feelings and ensure people feel welcomed here.
What is the biggest DEI challenge that health care institutions are facing? How is MD Anderson responding to this challenge?
Among the biggest challenges are how to make diversity, equity and inclusion a part of the DNA of an organization and to ensure that people understand that DEI is important and benefits everyone. Part of the reason DEI is so polarizing throughout the nation is that some people feel that it offers benefits for a group and is connected to someone else losing out, and that is not the case. We really need to hear from the individuals who are on the fence about diversity, equity and inclusion so we can all better understand how DEI benefits everyone. Providing safe spaces to ask questions and engage more people in the solutions is the next transformative challenge for DEI.
What’s one key thing you would tell people about diversity, equity and inclusion at MD Anderson?
I would say that there is a strong consistency between our external DEI accolades and our commitment in our internal work. This past year, MD Anderson was recognized by Forbes as one of America’s Best Employers for Diversity, a Best Employer for Women, and a Best Employer for New Graduates. Our Historically Underutilized Business program was also recognized with the 2022 Supplier Diversity Champion Award by Subcontractor USA, and we continue to rank as a top place to work for veterans and people with disabilities, as well as a top performer for LGBTQ+ Health Care Equality. Our collective commitment to DEI recently led to the Global ERG Network ranking MD Anderson No. 1 in the Enterprise-Wide category of their 2022 Diversity Impact Awards.
MD Anderson is a special place with an outstanding culture, and the recognition we receive publicly for our DEI initiatives and achievements really corresponds with what is occurring throughout the organization.
What motivates you to come to work every day?
The people at MD Anderson really motivate me. Whether it is in a meeting or walking the halls, I have found that I learn something each day from someone at this organization. I have always been inspired and motivated by watching others, so it excites me to interact with my MD Anderson colleagues and anyone our organization serves. These encounters leave me wiser, more insightful and more hopeful.
Where would you like to see MD Anderson in five years?
I would like to see our institution even more engaged in doing the work that has made us a national leader in diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI is so critical to our future, and it is no longer just a core competency for leaders. It is a core competency for any person living in America today, regardless of their role. I am excited and confident that MD Anderson will continue to serve as a trailblazer for diversity, equity and inclusion by leading difficult conversations that increase our knowledge and awareness, narrowing the gap in health care inequities and truly demonstrating what the inclusion quotient represents.