EDI in Action: Duke PA Program Works to Eliminate Bias in Hiring

PAEA is pleased to spotlight Duke University’s framework that outlines key strategies to recognize and mitigate implicit bias within the faculty search and hiring process. We sat down with Associate Professor, Quinnette Jones, MSW, LCSW, MHS, PA-C; Senior Education Strategist, Assistant Professor, Rachel Porter, PhD; and Director of Clinical Education, Assistant Professor, Alicia Bolden, DMSc., MPH, PA-C, to learn more about how this initiative at Duke, located in Durham, North Carolina, is impacting their program.

When Jones was charged by Jacqueline Barnett, DHSc, MHS, PA-C, division chief of the Division of Physician Assistant Studies and program director of the Duke Physician Assistant Program, to be intentionally anti-biased in her upcoming faculty search, she knew that she had to start from scratch.

She began by assembling a search committee diverse in their ages, gender, race, job titles, and more, including Dr. Porter and Dr. Bolden. The committee was focused on their goal from day one as they received anti-bias training tailored specifically to their charge.

To ensure they never wavered from their purpose, Jones would begin each committee meeting with a bias check on the agenda. By consistently and openly discussing how bias or inequality may play a role in their decision-making at every turn, a healthy communication pattern was established where committee members were comfortable speaking up.

This habit spread to other meetings and the search, in which they began using the code word “purple flag” to note that something biased might have just occurred so that they could work together to address it. They credit this Ted Talk for their inspiration.

When candidates applied for this position at Duke, one of the first things they would have noticed was Duke’s statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion right on the job posting. This was a tactic to attract candidates who shared values on anti-racism in medicine.

Before it was time for the committee to evaluate candidates, they collaborated to create a detailed rubric encompassing the job description, needs of the program, and desired qualifications. They noted how some rubrics used in faculty searches were more of a simple rating scale that included subjective language such as “good fit.” To ensure objectivity at every turn, they spent a long time discussing how the qualities that they were searching for could show up in a resume versus in an interview, and created rubric categories that would fairly assess candidates and serve as the standard for future searches.

Once the application period closed and before the committee members began evaluating the candidates, Jones removed names, pronouns, and institution details from their applications. There was only a note included if a school was a minority serving institution such as an HBCU or tribal college.

This extra step ensured that bias would not play a role as committee members reviewed candidates. Once all were graded against the rubric, the committee gathered again to do a bias check and identify who would move on to interviews.

During the interview process, Jones, Porter, and Bolden discussed how important it was that all questions were created collaboratively to ensure they aligned with the goals of the committee. The result was a set of standardized inquiries that left no room for extraneous questions that could lead to bias.

An example of an unintentionally biased line of questioning could be bonding with a candidate about sharing a home city, and then inadvertently harboring a favorable attitude toward them.

Interviews were conducted in groups that contained at least one committee member, student, and URiM participant. All interviews were held over Zoom to ensure an equitable process for those who might have had to travel.

Jones, Porter, and Bolden measure success by considering the positive impact that those hired through this framework have had on their program. They also surveyed all staff, faculty, and students involved about their experience with the process, if they felt bias was successfully mitigated, and recommendations for future searches.

They note how they are committed to learning and growing within this process to fine-tune and adapt based on every individual search’s needs.

When asked for advice to share with other PA programs interested in adopting similar hiring strategies, Duke’s faculty stressed the importance of looking closely at the program’s specific needs and intentionally creating a committee that will be focused on centering anti-bias. They also credit Duke’s supportive leadership.

For more information, check out the upcoming JPAE article “Casting a Wider Net: Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence in Faculty Searches” and keep an eye out as this group hopes to continue to share what they’ve learned with not only PA programs but for all seeking equitable, anti-biased faculty search guidance.

PAEA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Team is excited to continue EDI in Action. Every month we will identify a PA program that is seeing success in anti-racist and inclusive programming. While many programs are eager to support their underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students, faculty, and staff, some are unsure what to do. PAEA’s DEI Toolkit is one tool that programs can use to initiate or increase programming. We hope these examples serve as inspiration and a model that other programs can follow.