New MUSC employees discuss ongoing diversity initiative

Sheila Champlin is the new chief communication and marketing officer at MUSC. She previously worked for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

Local labor rights protesters have called on the Medical University of South Carolina to hire more minorities and women for leadership roles, and the university’s president indicated last month he’s already making progress on this front.

At a January Board of Trustees meeting, President David Cole said five of MUSC’s top leaders are black and that three of them are black women.

“That didn’t exist any time in the history of this institution,” Cole said.

Both Sheila Champlin and Suzanne Craig joined MUSC this year.

Champlin, who previously worked for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, now serves as MUSC’s chief communication and marketing officer. Craig, who worked at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was recently named chairwoman of MUSC’s Department of Comparative Medicine and director of the division of Laboratory Animal Resources.

The pair recently sat down with The Post and Courier to discuss diversity at MUSC and their first impressions.

The following interview has been edited for length.

Q: Do you believe MUSC needs more minorities and women in its ranks?

Craig: I’ve only been here two weeks so I can’t really put a whole lot of stake into what I’ve seen, (but) walking around and in some of the leadership meetings, I can see it could use some more diversity in those levels. And I’ve heard there are issues with retention of African-Americans and other minorities.

Champlin: From my perspective, reporting directly to Dr. Cole, I hear and see every day the commitment that he has to diversity and inclusion. In fact, diversity and inclusion is one of the five strategic pillars of our organization. So yes, is there room for improvement? I think everyone would say yes. But have we come a long way and made a significant difference in diversity and inclusion in this organization? Absolutely. And that’s not just racial diversity and ethnicity — that’s diversity of all different kinds.

Q: You mentioned that, to improve diversity, MUSC must confront some of those “unconscious biases” that may exist. Name an example of an unconscious bias.

Champlin: Surgery seems to be a real male bastion, historically. There’s an unconscious bias, perhaps, that men make better surgeons. Not necessarily, right? But that’s sort of been an unconscious bias that people have had because that has been the way the profession has played out.

Q: What about unconscious biases in the research arena?

Craig: Actually yes, it also is more of a male/female thing, but there are the under-represented minorities. It’s not just necessarily black and white. It can be other minority issues, as well.

If you look at the number of (National Institutes of Health) grants, they are going more to the males and more to the older males who have been established. So NIH has put together a program to encourage under-represented minorities and women to try to apply and get those grants.

Q: What does success look like? When will MUSC have achieved an optimally diverse campus?

Champlin: To me, this is an area where you constantly measure and reassess and then measure again and make changes and adjustments as needed as time goes on. Because diversity and inclusion is, to me, something that has to be an ongoing initiative. It’s too easy for people to fall back into the way “I always used to do it.” That’s with most things. People find their comfort zone and then they stick within that comfort zone because that’s easier.

Craig: One of the things that is very different coming from MD Anderson to here is that Dr. Cole has a person that reports directly to him and it’s all about diversity issues. And it’s not just having employees be diverse, but it’s also about the outreach of MUSC into the community to ensure that the patients see and understand that MUSC is about diversity, as well.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.