For assistant professor Jamie Key, DO, promoting equality and inclusion “is in my blood as much as red blood cells.” In fact, part of her reasoning for choosing a specialty in physical medicine and rehabilitation was so she could provide care for individuals who experience biases of ableism and help them navigate the challenges.

“I sat for years feeling and seeing inequalities in our system and knew if our culture was going to change, I needed to do my part,” she said.

Dr. Key is now helping create positive change in her department through the UK College of Medicine Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador program. The college has appointed 22 ambassadors who are charged with developing more equitable practices and leading these efforts in their respective departments and centers.

“It is important that as our team implements strategies and initiatives to promote inclusion, we have the structure to sustain our progress,” said Stephanie White, MD, MS, associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “We want our diversity and inclusion ambassadors to serve as resources for faculty and staff, as well as catalysts for continued change.”

Diversity and inclusion ambassadors meet regularly, providing opportunities to share successes and collaborate on future efforts.

An example of this collaboration is an ambassador-led outreach program with Frederick Douglass High School’s (FDHS) biosciences academy, an idea conceptualized by Ima Ebong, MD, MS, assistant professor and ambassador for the neurology department. The effort later expanded to surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and emergency medicine.

Faculty in these departments offered workshops related to their specialties, introduced FDHS students to medical equipment and showed them how it was used, and connected them to residents and medical students who could share their experiences. Faculty who have been instrumental in the event’s success include Dr. Key, as well as Kevin O’Connor, MD, assistant professor of neurology; Prakash Pandalai, MD, assistant professor of surgery; and Katelyn Yackey, MD, assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine.

Participation in the event continues to grow. Nearly 200 high school students attended the February workshops.

“FDHS is already doing so much to help students experience what a medical career could look like, and we were happy to join them in that endeavor,” Dr. Yackey said. “Ultimately, it’s about supporting diversity in medicine and providing excellent care to our equally diverse community.”

The hope is that eventually, College of Medicine faculty will help local students with college applications and offer letters of recommendation, with the ultimate goal of connecting them to in-state medical schools and residency programs like UK to advance health care in the Commonwealth.

To Dr. Key, the most exciting benefit of community engagement is the potential to build more connections and networking opportunities for the people we are serving. Along with helping with the FDHS event, she is utilizing the connection to build a summer observership program, working to enhance recruitment efforts in her department, and connecting with local food vendors of color to celebrate cultural holidays within her department.

“This is my absolute favorite part of my job,” Dr. Key said.

You can read this story and much more in our summer 2022 edition of UK Medicine magazine.