Get to know DJ Gaines, a San Diego physician and podcaster on diversity, equity and inclusion in medicine

As institutions across the country undertake challenging but important conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion…

Get to know DJ Gaines, a San Diego physician and podcaster on diversity, equity and inclusion in medicine

As institutions across the country undertake challenging but important conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020, people are looking for resources and guidance in these areas.

That’s what the DEI Shift podcast offers health care professionals. Since March, the DEI Shift — DEI is pronouced “day,” but is shorthand for diversity, equity and inclusion — has been addressing these subjects head on, with its hosts and producers seeking to spark discussion and improve practices among physicians, students and other health care professionals.

Dirk “DJ” Gaines is physician at UC San Diego Health and a senior producer on the show. He’s the son of African American and Panamanian parents, and graduated from medical school at the University of Washington.

Recent episodes of DEI Shift focus on how the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on disparities in health care, the creation of inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ patients and recruitment and retention in medical school.

Gaines talked to Name Drop San Diego about his own experiences in school, what he’s learned from the DEI Shift, and what we all can learn, even if we’re not in the medical field.

Read excerpts of Gaines’ conversation below, or listen above for the full episode.

Why he cares about diversity, equity and inclusion:

Growing up I always wanted to be a doctor, and it started with my little brother. He was born very premature, like 23 weeks, which is really, really premature. It was definitely a shock to our family. I really remember the doctors and I thought they were really cool, and so I was like, I’ll be a doctor.

As I got older and became a little more aware of race, I started noticing there weren’t a lot of doctors that looked like me. And my parents always encouraged me to reach for the stars, and that you can be whatever you want to be, and that really did help me through some rough moments in high school. And then in college, I went to University of Washington, Seattle, and I remember seeing some folks that looked like me … and I think that was the first time I saw a Black doctor or even a Black medical student.

And so that really encouraged me, and it showed me how much representation, how much of an effect it can have on an individual, especially someone that’s young and aspiring to reach their dreams.

On why representation matters:

The road to becoming a physician is long. It’s four years undergrad, four years medical school, and then residency, that’s like three to seven years or more, depending on what you do.

As you go further and further up the chain, you start to notice there’s — especially if you’re a person of color — that there’s less and less people that look like you. And so what happens, as a result, you experience a lot of implicit bias. You experience a lot of microaggressions. … The cumulative effect of all those microaggressions can lead to burnout and it can lead to a lot of people dropping out. So what representation does is it encourages those that are going through the process that, “Hey, there’s someone that probably experienced the same thing that I did, and they were able to make it through and able to be successful.”

So I think that the most important thing about representation is simply just being there is such a big encouragement. … I saw this patient at a clinic and she said, “You know, you’re the first Black resident I’ve ever seen while being at UC San Diego” — she was a Black patient — which I thought was very shocking. It matters, and people notice, and I think that’s why it’s such an important issue.

His advice on approaching new ideas gracefully:

The No. 1 thing is you have to be is humble. … If you’re coming here for a topic that you’re not familiar with, let’s listen to the people who have either experienced the topic or are experts on the topic. Be aware of your biases, which is very important. We all have bias and that’s just a result of how we grew up, in society, what have you.

Try to put yourself in their shoes and try to do it mentally, but try to also have that emotional aspect, too. … And then another thing is, if you make a mistake, just say sorry. And depending on the severity of the mistake, try to move on. That’s not always the case, and it’s all case-by-case basis. So be humble, apologize and try to better yourself.