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Genao’s Impact Reverberates Across YSM

March 17, 2022
by Julie Parry

Inginia Genao, MD, FACP, recently announced that she will be leaving Yale after 17 years to become dean, Diversity, Equity, and Belonging at Penn State College of Medicine.

Genao was recruited to Yale School of Medicine (YSM) by Patrick G. O’Connor, MD, MPH, MACP, Dan Adams and Amanda Adams Professor of General Medicine; and section chief (general medicine), to direct the Adult Medicine Primary Care Center (PCC) at Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH). He considers recruiting Genao as one of the top accomplishments in the Section of General Internal Medicine.

“Inginia has had an enormous impact on the clinical, educational, research, and community health missions of Yale General Internal Medicine, and of our department and university more broadly. As director of our Primary Care Center, she reinvigorated our clinical and teaching programs in this critical arena. More recently, her leadership in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at Yale has been revolutionary - reframing how we all approach these essential areas. As a result, she leaves us all in a much better place and on a much better trajectory in Yale’s efforts to excel and lead nationally in this area,” he said.

Stephen Huot, MD, PhD, senior associate dean and director, Graduate Medical Education, Yale New Haven Hospital; and professor of medicine (nephrology), YSM, met Genao when she was interviewing for the PCC role.

“She had an extremely relevant background with the work that she'd been doing at Grady [Hospital]. And that by itself simply felt like a right fit. But the other thing for myself that came through strongly and caused me to really hope that we could recruit Inginia was that she had passion for the work, it was more than just that she had the necessary experience and expertise. That came across in the conversation,” Huot recalled. “It was who she is, it was a job that aligned with both her skillset and her values.”

Under Genao’s leadership, the Adult PCC underwent a major redesign to improve access and quality, and to enhance the educational experience of department trainees, in addition to emphasizing the inclusion of minority participants in a range of collaborative research studies involving the patient population of the clinic.

When Lydia Aoun-Barakat, MD, associate professor term (infectious diseases), arrived in New Haven to serve as director of the Nathan Smith Clinic, Genao was the director of the PCC. The directors of the community clinics started meeting on a monthly basis, and the pair hit it off. “Inginia and I really connected. For me, she was a great mentor as well, because she has a lot of experience. We talked about issues related to work, being a woman, being a minority, but more about the population that we served, because we all served a vulnerable population,” said Aoun-Barakat. “I will miss our ‘walks and talks.’”

In November 2016, Genao was appointed as the inaugural associate chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Department of Internal Medicine by Department Chair Gary V. Désir, MD, Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine; and vice provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Yale University.

Désir recognized the need for a leader within the department who could champion this DEI work, and found the perfect fit in Genao. “In her previous roles at Emory, Inginia made changes to better serve diverse faculty and communities. Her work as director of the PCC further solidified her dedication and expertise in this work. As the inaugural associate chair for DEI in the department, she is leaving tremendously large shoes to fill, but through the groundwork that she has laid, has made the department a more collaborative and inclusive environment,” said Désir.

Through Genao’s lead, the department’s Diversity Committee was established and started educating, recruiting, and retaining talent within the department, while focusing on increasing the diversity of our faculty. The committee visited historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); attended national conferences; and hosted students as part of the newly created Yale Visiting Program for Students Underrepresented in Medicine (YVPSUM). Additionally, she collaborated closely with YSM programs, such as MORE and SWIM, to engage diverse faculty and trainees. In 2019, the department hired The Barthwell Group to develop a strategic plan to recruit and retain diverse faculty members. To implement that strategic plan, the department’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Internal Medicine (ODEIM) was born in December 2020. Three staff were hired to support the new office. Searches were held to nominate a vice chief of DEI for each department section, and Genao and team immediately began to restructure the department’s Diversity Committee to create working groups, focused on specific areas of the strategic plan.

On a monthly basis, Genao authored the department’s “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Update,” providing transparency to the work being done, and encouraging readers to make Yale a better place. On October 21, 2021, she highlighted these efforts as part of her Medical Grand Rounds presentation, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion--From Here to There."

Dowin Boatright, MD, MBA, MHS, assistant professor of emergency medicine and officer for Diversity and Inclusion (Emergency Medicine), worked with Genao on research published in JAMA Network Open on the training experiences of under-represented residents in 2018. It was their first of many collaborations.

“Inginia always provides useful insights, both from a lived experience, but also from a keen scientific mind. That was very instrumental for both Aba [Black, MD, MHS] and I. Having her as someone more senior was instrumental,” he explained. “Inginia is just such a phenomenal collaborator, so she gives a tremendous amount of leadership, but still allowed me as the senior author, to run the project and give enough room for Aba as the first author, to set the direction she wanted to, as well. She is a phenomenal collaborator and leader.”

Along with her work in the Department of Internal Medicine, Genao also serves on behalf of YNHH and YSM as GME director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion alongside Huot. She led efforts to recruit more underrepresented in medicine (URiM) residents through an annual recruitment dinner, partnership with HBCUs, and participation in national conferences. She also worked within the GME office to create the TEACH Doc program on how to speak up against bias, microaggressions, and stereotypes, and serves as faculty advisor to the Minority Housestaff Organization and Diversity Council. She has advocated for URiM students by proposing the abolishment of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and has spoken nationally about racism and other “isms” toward staff, faculty, and trainees.

Ghenekaro Esin, MD, PGY-3 in the Internal Medicine Traditional Residency Program met Genao on a visit to her alma mater, Meharry Medical College, in 2018. From that meeting, Esin joined the Visiting Program for Students Underrepresented in Medicine and then began her residency in New Haven in 2019. She loved working alongside Genao.

“It's been great working with her from both the URiM perspective and in the clinic,” Esin said. “She is one of our attendings at the primary care clinic. Every time Dr. Genao is precepting, I am always excited to talk to her. She is always supportive. I remember being an intern and performing my first pap smear in the clinic. She came in the room with me and made both the patient and I feel very comfortable. That's a memorable experience I can never forget. She is such a calming presence. I love working with her.”

Genao has been open about her personal journey from poverty to medicine through her autobiographic essay, “An MD Made in America,” first in the 2019 “Stories of Internal Medicine” Medical Grand Rounds. The deeply moving essay was later published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Additionally, she has spoken about the intense pride of her daughter upon showing her the Aperture: Portraits of Women Faculty in Medicine exhibit on display in Sterling Hall of Medicine.

“Inginia is a phenomenal leader and a special person-- her outstanding contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion have been nationally recognized. Moreover, she has made long-lasting and transformative positive change everywhere she's been. And we are all in her debt here at Yale. Our colleagues at Penn State are incredibly fortunate she is bringing her gifts to that community. Her tremendous legacy here is well-secured and we know she won't be a stranger,” said Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine (General Medicine), of Epidemiology (Chronic Disease) and of Public Health (Social And Behavioral Sciences); and inaugural associate dean for Health Equity Research.

In December 2020, Genao was awarded the American College of Physicians (ACP) Connecticut Chapter Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award for her efforts at Yale. In April 2021, she was recognized for her outstanding work in diversity, equity, and inclusion by the Society of General Internal Medicine, winning the 2021 Herbert W. Nickens Minority and Representation in Medicine Award, one of the organization’s highest honors.

Inginia has had tremendous personal and professional growth, and it comes across in the content of her work and in the way that she does her work. When you see Inginia now, running a meeting, interacting with a group of people that have different opinions and ideas, she is very skilled at doing that in a way that is inclusive. Everyone feels like their voice is important. She wants to hear it, she wants to be sure everyone else has heard it, and that different ideas and perspectives get included in the way that she thinks about solutions. That, in my opinion, is exactly what you're looking for in a leader, and that is the skill set that she has developed and brought to the work she's done here. I'm confident that's what they saw when they interviewed her at Penn State,” said Huot.

“Inginia is the epitome of what we all want to be in medicine. She is highly skilled in what she does, but it's also one of the most humble people you'll ever meet. If you feel like you have a problem, you can go to her and know that she's going to do something to intervene on your behalf. So, you feel safe with her, and then you also trust her to get something done. I think that's rare in leadership, maybe someone could get something done, but you don't know if you can trust them, maybe after a while, after you complain so much and nothing's happened, you just stop. But Inginia, is always someone to go to and know the future is going to be better,” said Boatright.

The Section of General Internal Medicine plans to add a lectureship in her honor.

“Inginia is a great leader; she's so warm and thoughtful, she is not afraid to tackle challenging issues, yet she's very kind. I was reading this week and I came across a quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She said, ‘Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that you will lead others to join you,’” said Aoun-Barakat. “I think that is what Inginia did in our DEI office. She really started this and look how many people joined her. People are doing the right thing, and it is all volunteering. This is really something very reflective of Inginia.”

“While we conduct a national search to fill her former role, Inginia cannot be replaced,” said Désir. “She leaves a tremendous legacy through the work she did here and through those she taught at Yale. While I will miss seeing and working with her, I am excited for her new opportunity at Penn State.”

The impact of Genao’s work will be felt from years to come. Her last day at Yale is March 20.

The Department of Internal Medicine at Yale is among the nation's premier departments, bringing together an elite cadre of clinicians, investigators, and educators in one of the world's top medical schools. To learn more, visit Internal Medicine.

Submitted by Julie Parry on March 17, 2022