“Head of the Class”: equity discourses related to department head appointments at one Canadian medical school





Purpose: Equitable appointments of departmental leaders in medical schools have lagged behind other Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) advancements. The purpose of this research was to 1) analyze how policy documents communicate changing ideas of EDI, employment equity, and departmental leadership; and 2) investigate department heads’ (DH) perspectives on EDI policies and practices.

Methods: We conducted a critical discourse analysis to examine underlying assumptions shaping EDI and departmental leadership in one Canadian medical school. We created and analyzed a textual archive of EDI documents (n = 17, 107 pages) and in-depth interviews with past (n = 6) and current (n = 12) DH (830 minutes; 177 pages).

Results: Documents framed EDI as: a legal requirement; an aspiration; and historical reparation. In interviews, participants framed EDI as: affirmative action; relationships; numerical representation; and relinquishing privilege. We noted inconsistent definitions of equity-deserving groups.

Conclusions: Change is slowly happening, with emerging awareness of white privilege, allyship, co-conspiracy, and the minority tax. However, there is more urgent work to be done. This work requires an intersectional lens. Centering the voices, and taking cues from, equity-deserving leaders and scholars, will help ensure that EDI pathways, such as those used to cultivate department leaders, are more inclusive, effective, and aligned with intentions.


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Author Biographies

Constance LeBlanc, Dalhousie University

Emergency Physician and Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada.

Anne Mahalik, Dalhousie University

Evaluation Specialist, Continuing Professional Development & Medical Education, Dalhousie University

Shawna O'Hearn, Dalhousie University

Director, Global Health - Dalhousie University

Christy Simpson, Dalhousie University

Head and Associate Professor, Department of Bioethics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University


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How to Cite

Cameron P, LeBlanc C, Mahalik A, O’Hearn S, Simpson C. “Head of the Class”: equity discourses related to department head appointments at one Canadian medical school . Can. Med. Ed. J [Internet]. 2023 May 30 [cited 2023 Sep. 22];14(4):25-34. Available from: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cmej/article/view/76208



Original Research