Power, privilege, and positionality as they relate to patient care are discussed at start of semester.

Power, and how it can affect a patient’s life. That they knew.


Privilege, of being able to attend a graduate school and have access to health care. Check.

Positionality. That’s a word that stumped most of the 170 MGH Institute students during “What Is the IHP's Role in Health Care? Exploring the Impact of Power, Privilege, and Positionality.”

Held at the start of each semester, the fall 2019 event provided incoming students in the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling, Master of Science in Nursing, and Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology programs with a first glimpse of the core values of the MGH Institute. Throughout the afternoon session, health care professionals, students, alumni, and disability advocates discussed the importance of treating patients with dignity and respect while becoming the best health care professionals – and people – they can be.

“I personally didn't know what positionality meant until I came here, but I think it’s extremely important, especially in health care,” said Jessica Fogal, a Doctor of Occupational Therapy student who had attended the previous event during the summer term. “My major, for example, is made up predominantly of white females and something that stuck out to me was how can you give the best care to someone in a different position than if you don’t live their life. Positionality is hard to understand but it’s extremely important to at least attempt to put yourself in someone else’s position so you can give them the best possible health care.”

Sponsored by the IHP’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, the conversation continues the school’s efforts to spur conversation and raise awareness on campus about issues surrounding diversity. It also serves as an introduction to the school’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment enhanced by persons who differ in gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, socio-economic background, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and religious belief.

The event featured interviews with panelists who each gave their individual perspective on the subject:  Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, an associate professor of health disparities at Tufts Medical School; Tala Berro, a genetic counselor and project manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Adrian Walker, a columnist for the Boston Globe; and Indigo Young, an instructor of speech-language pathology who graduated from the Institute in 2014 with a SLP master’s degree.

Also assisting in leading the event were Dr. Kim Truong, the school’s executive director for diversity, equity, and inclusion; Dr. Leah Gordon, assistant director for multicultural programming and inclusion; Dr. Peter Cahn, associate provost for academic affairs; and Dr. Mike Boutin, academic support counselor for the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“We strive to be inclusive and a welcoming environment where every person is treated with dignity and respect and also mutual trust and collegiality in our relationships with each other, those we serve in health care, and those in the community,” Truong told the audience as the event’s end. “Part of the learning process is to make mistakes and it’s okay. This is your community of support and all the folks here will be a part of the learning process with you, too. So, make sure that today is not the end but just the beginning of the conversations that we’ll continue to have.”