The 2023-2034 cohort of JEDI Fellows hears from their alumni counterparts on how being in the program has helped reduce cultural inequities in patient care.

JEDI Fellows at the MGH Institute are out to heal the world and make it a better place for others by learning the skills they need to address existing cultural inequalities.

An initiative of the Institute’s Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), the program since 2019 has tapped into students’ passion for activism by raising their awareness of social injustice issues so they better understand how to serve marginalized and minoritized communities so they better understand how to advance justice within healthcare and education settings.

On Saturday, the 2023-2024 cohort of JEDI Fellows had a day-long orientation that included a video meeting with six alumni Fellows who are now living and working throughout the United States.

“It was a great way of letting the new Fellows know what our previous Fellows have done so they get a sense of what they could be doing this year,” Chief Equity Officer Dr. Kimberly Truong said of the event. “What we find is that the newer JEDI Fellows are building on foundations laid by previous Fellows that have advanced equity at the IHP, from proposing changes to the curriculum to culture change. This also helps us to build a community among our current Fellows and alumni,”

More than two dozen Fellows have participated in the program since it began in 2019. The one-year to two-year Fellowships consists of leadership training and mentoring which give participants a chance to create, pilot and facilitate workshops and programs throughout the IHP campus and upon graduating, to patients.

My time as a JEDI Fellow really helped me,” said Rachel Kahn, who graduated in May with a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree.

Kahn, an early-intervention OT, said what she learned has taught her to “step back and look at the situation” while working with patientsOne such patient, who was frustrated by the complexities of a healthcare system that operates in a culture far different from their own, was reluctant to tell Kahn how many people were living in their home. That reaction led her to suspect the patient was living with an undocumented immigrant. The interaction, Kahn said, enabled her to better understand what was going on in that patient’s life and determine an appropriate care plan.

The video chats with alumni offered students in this year’s cohort a sense of community that promised to jumpstart their role of becoming healthcare activists.

“I feel incredibly energized,” Karina Absalon, a first-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy student and Physical Therapy Fellow, said after hearing several of the JEDI alumni speak. “To be able to talk to someone who has been through the program and who can guide me in the right direction really helps.”

Fellow OTD student Katie McColgan, a School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean’s Office Fellow, agreed. “I’m inspired to be in this space that is so connected and to see it in action is quite exciting,” she said.

Woman smiling
JEDI Fellow Karina Absalon will work this year with the Department of Physical Therapy.

Person in black top smiling
JEDI Fellow Tiffany Tsang will work this year with the Department of Occupational Therapy.

A Mission to Transform Lives

Truong said she developed the model for the JEDI Fellow program in 2015 while at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, bringing it to the IHP when she arrived four years ago. It now serves as a model for other programs nationwide, she added.

The mission of the JEDI Fellows at the IHP is to transform the lives of healthcare professions students in a manner that prepares them to become social justice leaders and educators in healthcare settings, explained Dr. Callie Watkins Liu, who oversees the JEDI Fellows as Director of JEDI Education and Programs. Watkins Liu took over the role after Jammy Torres-Millet, who developed the program's foundation.

Over the past four years, Fellows have done such things as host regular outreach programs that support their growth and develop their leadership skills, while giving them the chance to promote restorative justice concepts and critical race theory with their academic peers.

Projects tackled by JEDIs last year included a leading dialogue series, department meet-and-greets, co-leading academic program JEDI curriculum review processes, and other social justice programming. They’ve also worked with faculty and staff members to address equity issues, all the while learning the skills to provide culturally appropriate treatment and care to patients in diverse situations. JEDIs engage in deep conversations with others and gain the tools and skills they need to become leaders who bring justice and equality to both their practice and to their future careers.

They’re really co-collaborators and trusted partners,” said Watkins Liu, who currently is working with this year’s cohort on what they’ll focus on. They have the ability to shape different projects and really make a difference in many ways.”

While each of the new Fellows had their own reason for signing on for a position that will squeeze time away from their studies and clinical experiences, it was a decision they know will pay dividends both in the short and long term.

“I wanted to do something I was passionate about and could relate that to other students,” noted third-year OTD student and PT Fellow Arianna Bayangos.

Added Brittany Stokes, a student in the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program and GC Fellow: “If I can make sure people can access care and I can understand how they move through the world, that will allow me to provide better care.”

The other 2023-2024 JEDI Fellows are Rebecca Rojas, GC student and Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) Fellow; Laura Gonzalez, Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology student and CSD Fellow; Nikita Desai, Master of Science in Nursing student and School of Nursing (SON) Fellow; Eliza Koso, Bachelor of Science in Nursing student and SON Fellow; and Tiffany Tsang, OT student and OT Fellow.

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