Throughout her career, Dr. Juanyce Taylor has answered the call of improving diversity and inclusion in the education and health care landscapes of Mississippi. Now she wears the title. Taylor was appointed as the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s chief diversity and inclusion officer effective May 2.
Since that day, she has been on a listening tour, meeting people and taking in information from every aspect of the Medical Center’s operations, at the Jackson campus and community locations.
“The energy has been very positive since I’ve been in the role,” Taylor said. “I have been talking to the leaders who will be instrumental in seeing our diversity goals come to light, meeting with them to hear about their ideas and plans.”
Taylor joined the Graduate School at the University of Mississippi in 2000 as statewide project coordinator for the Alliance for Graduate Education in Mississippi, leading a consortium of Ph.D.-granting institutions in the state in an effort to increase the number of underrepresented Ph.D.s in STEM fields to enter the professoriate.
That program, under Taylor’s leadership, saw graduation rates for minority Ph.D.s grow from a baseline of 13 in five years to 39 in three and one-half years once the program started. She attributes that improvement to implementing evidence-based strategies designed to prepare graduates for careers in academia and the biomedical workforce, and programming that involved faculty mentors and students learning about each other through engagement, communication and “cross-cultural exchanges.”
“I think a lot of tension stems from systemic attitudes and not valuing differences,” Taylor said. “I observed a lot of behavior changes, and it mostly came from learning one another.”
In 2006, she served as director of the Multicultural Center at Auburn University and later returned to Mississippi as the director of diversity assessment and programs in the Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Multicultural Affairs at UMMC. She joined the School of Health Related Professions faculty in 2012 and will maintain her faculty appointment in the Doctor of Health Administration program there.
Taylor holds a B.S. in psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi, an M.Ed. in guidance counseling and education from Jackson State University and a Ph.D. in international development, also from USM.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said that the role of chief diversity and inclusion officer was one of the first positions she added to her Executive Cabinet after becoming vice chancellor in 2015.
“Not only did I want this work to be represented and visible at the highest level of leadership, this new institutional role would cover all three of our missions as well as coordinate diversity and inclusion efforts between them,” she said.
Woodward said that executive leadership conducted a months-long national search to fill the position.
“I was so pleased when we found Juanyce to be the most qualified candidate, and she was already right here at UMMC,” she said. “Having literally grown up on this campus (her family lived in campus housing while her father was in medical school here), no one knows us better yet is so well-connected on the national level.”
Taylor has been charged with crafting the first officially adopted strategic diversity and inclusion plan for the Medical Center. She said that having a clear understanding of who is under-represented, and in what context, is important to reaching UMMC’s diversity goals.
“I’m assessing a lot of gaps through survey data, discussions with various leaders and conversations with those interested in improving diversity and inclusion at UMMC,” she said.
Taylor has brought together a group of nearly 40 volunteers from across the Medical Center – health care professionals, students, staff and faculty. They make up the Institutional Climate Work Group.
“We are looking at our existing institutional strategic plan, reviewing documented policies and identifying realistic metrics around diversity and inclusion that we could possibly incorporate and achieve,” Taylor said.
When the email was sent asking for volunteers for the work group, Annie Reiher, a physical therapist at Batson Children’s Hospital, was quick to respond. She has worked at UMMC for 7 years.
“I’ve worked in nine medical settings throughout the United States, which allowed me to experience various cultures, languages and customs,’” Reiher said.
She said that she and her husband are from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. “We both enjoy learning about other cultures and customs. I am passionate about creating an environment where everyone feels welcome.”
Reiher said the work group has met several times already to discuss the strategic goals of the Medical Center, discussing how each one meets the needs of the institution, if the goal should be updated, how to achieve the goal and what metrics will be used to measure achievement of the goal.
“We have a real variety of people in the group – from human resources to patient care and risk management. Everyone who is there really wants to be there,” Reiher said.
Taylor has also been asked to lead the Health Care Disparities Council alongside co-chair Dr. Bettina Beach, dean of the Bower School of Population Health. The first meeting of the updated council was held in September.
Taylor introduced the new members to some of the goals that will be tackled in the upcoming months. The council will work on identifying health care disparities and educating employees across the Medical Center on ways to combat those disparities, all in an effort to improve quality of care to bring about the goal of a healthier Mississippi.
Taylor said that she hopes to help the UMMC community understand that “diversity and disparities are not the same thing and should not be used interchangeably.” However, understanding one is key to eliminating the other.
“With our institution fully committing to diversity and inclusion, I believe those threats within the health system contributing to health care disparities have better chances of improving or being eliminated.”