WashU Med School’s first Black department head looks to tackle disparities impacting people of color

WashU Medical School’s first Black department head hopes to make St. Louis a leader in the nation.
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 4:35 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - WashU Medical School’s first Black department head hopes to make St. Louis a leader in the nation.

Dr. Dineo Khabele was appointed as head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2020.

“In the 2020′s to be a first is very sobering,” Dr. Khabele said.

Dr. Khabele’s goal is to tackle disparities impacting people of color.

“We are at a place and time where we are doing things about it,” Dr. Khabele said. “Sometimes it feels hopeless, and sometimes people feel sort of dejected or like they can’t do anything. I want to let people know that you can move the needle with whatever tools you have, wherever you are.”

It’s a role Dr. Khabele uses to make a big impact, hoping to pave the way for future generations.

“To model culturally competent behavior to model best practices in following equity practices in hiring, for instance, in my department,” Dr. Khabele said. “In making sure that everybody understands, a part of our mission is to find the best candidates who are diverse. Those things are not mutually exclusive.”

Incorporating inclusion and diversity into WashU medical school’s curriculum is one of the first ways to make that change.

“Our patient population needs people in many ways who look like them,” Dr. Khabele said. “To help advocate for them and better understand and provide cultural competency in taking care of them. I would argue it affects everybody. If we can figure out how to take care of the most marginalized in our population, we’re going to do better by everybody.”

Third-year resident Halley Staples said Dr. Khabele’s leadership has been crucial for her and other minority students.

“To have her be there in that spot, it tells other people maybe one day I can do something even a tenth of what she’s done for us,” Staples said.

Staples said Dr. Khabele provides support from her own experience as a Black physician.

“I think it’s super important to have some sort of training on diversity and equity on different walks of life because not only do we as providers taking care of patients come from different backgrounds, but those patients come from very different backgrounds as well that we serve in St. Louis,” Staples said.

Dr. Khabele said there are disparities in healthcare impacting people of color.

“It’s going to take 100-plus years to get to parity,” Dr. Khabele said. “We’re not going to get the numbers trained for our population, so we have to rely on people who perhaps don’t look like us but can relate to those human feelings of being in distress when you’re sick.”

Despite being an OBGYN and a professor and chair at WashU, it’s something she has experienced firsthand while in labor.

“I was in excruciating pain, and I was ignored,” Dr. Khabele said.

Dr. Khabele is taking her pain and progress to teach future doctors how to care for everyone, regardless of their race

“You don’t have to be a Black person to deliver this type of care,” Dr. Khabele said. “You just have to understand what does it feel like to feel isolated or feel in pain or to feel like nobody believes what you’re going through, and connecting with that humanity is how we’re going to change things.”