CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:09 a.m. to correct the last name of CHI Memorial Hospital's CEO to Reilly. It had previously stated Riley.
When CHI Memorial Hospital's parent, CommonSpirit Health, partnered with Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) to train Black and other minority doctors, hospital CEO Janelle Reilly wanted to be at the head of the line.
"She wanted us to be the first [participating] hospital to welcome students," says Ray Smith, CHI Memorial's director of human resources.
CommonSpirit and Morehouse School of Medicine finalized their 10-year, $100 million partnership in December 2020. Smith says Reilly's wish came true six months later when CHI Memorial became the first CommonSpirit facility to host MSM students for a four-week rotation.
Now, CHI Memorial and MSM are sharing the 2022 Champions of Health Care award for Diversity and Inclusion.
"This is a wonderful honor, for which we're excited and grateful," says Dr. Erica Sutton, MSM's associate dean for undergraduate medical education, academic programs and affiliations. "Across 137 CommonSpirit hospital systems, CHI Memorial was the first to raise its hand. That takes flexibility and courage.
"We first met with CHI Memorial about 18 months ago," she adds. "That we've been able to do what we've done in that time is remarkable."
Sutton says four weeks at CHI Memorial exposes MSM students to something they've not seen before – a mix of urban and rural patients that "gives them visions of themselves they haven't had in three years of medical school."
Ngafla Bakayoko, 26, spent four weeks of her summer in an anesthesia rotation supervised by the hospital's Dr. Sloan Youngblood. Bakayoko says coming from Atlanta was a culture shock, but that everyone at CHI Memorial was very welcoming.
She recalls the day her prior training collided with life-and-death decision making in an operating room.
"Dr. Youngblood had an emergency," Bakayoko says. "I was in shock and awe, so fascinated to see everything happening all at once -- but it brought me back to medical school, my textbooks, and it was making sense.
"I felt I was part of the team, because I understood. What I'll tell people is that you'll leave here better-versed. My experience here has made me more confident in myself -- like I deserve to be here."
Both sides seem pleased with the partnership's start. Sutton says that, of the first dozen or so MSM students who returned from rotations at CHI Memorial, none rated their experience or supervisors with less than a score of 5 on a 5-point scale. Smith, the hospital's HR director, says that squares with feedback she and others have received.
And Nicole Brown, CHI Memorial's manager for community benefits and diversity, says the program has another benefit that defies measure.
"CHI Memorial was the first [Chattanooga-area] hospital to desegregate back in the 1960s," she says. "Now we're helping train medical students from historically Black colleges and universities.
"You can imagine what it means to a woman of color to think 'I can find someone who looks like me to take care of me and my family.'"