Members of the UICOMP family were asked for their impressions, experiences, and opportunities regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion for all.

They were asked 4 questions:

  1. Where did you grow up, how long have you been in Peoria, and what do you do for fun?
  2. Share an experience with diversity, equity, and/or inclusion that has influenced you?
  3. Give an example of a positive outcome you have observed when you or someone you know advocated for social equality or justice?
  4. What tips do you have for engaging in meaningful conversation on topics surrounding diversity, equality, and/or inclusion?



1. My name is John Fonge, and I hail from the great state of Texas. I earned my B.E. in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2008 and my doctorate from Ross University School of Medicine in 2014. After completing my medical training in the Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatric Residency Program at UICOMP, I was excited to join the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. In my role as an academic hospitalist, I am energized by and deeply committed to the work of training the next generation of physicians and was recently awarded the 2019 Inpatient Faculty Teaching Award. In addition to teaching, I am the co-director of the medicine consult and procedure service. I also serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force and the Anti-Racism Urgent Action Committee at UICOMP. When I’m not in the hospital, I enjoy spending time with my wife, Daphne, a fellow foodie who shares my love of music, movies, and traveling.

2. One experience that comes to mind when I think about the benefits of diversity in health care occurred during an ICU rotation in my first year as a resident. We were treating an elderly, African American patient who was critically ill and on life support. The patient had a large, loving family that was having a difficult time accepting the poor prognosis. Given my knowledge of the scholarly research on physician distrust among African Americans, I offered to speak with the family — believing that, as the only African American doctor on the unit, they might be more receptive to me and my approach. My assumption was correct. After explaining, in a culturally-responsive manner, that we had exhausted all medical options, the family agreed that — despite their pain — the best course of action was to prioritize the patient’s comfort in his final days. The conversation helped the family to understand that the decision was not a test of their faith, but rather a testament to their love. Years later, I was treating a patient who recognized me as the physician who supported her family through that tough medical decision. The patient thanked me for the care I provided to her loved one and expressed how meaningful it was to see and be treated by a physician who looked like them. These two related encounters demonstrate, for me, the importance of diversity and inclusion in medicine.

4. When attempting to have a dialogue about diversity and inclusion, it is essential to spend time unpacking what these terms mean and what they look like in practice; doing so helps to create a space where everyone has a solid foundation for contributing to the conversation. Moreover, we must work to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of why these conversations are critically important to our mission of delivering quality health care to all patients.



1. I was born in Chicago, but grew up in the south suburbs. For college, I graduated from University of Wisconsin in Madison with a double major in Mathematics and Biology in 2017 and finally returned to Illinois to start medical school here at UICOMP in 2018. I have been living in Peoria for a little over 2 years now while completing my medical school coursework. In my limited free time, I enjoy listening to music, working out and trying new restaurants.

2. While I was in undergrad I attended Student National Medical Association Annual Medical Education Conference in Atlanta. There were Black medical students and doctors from around the country in attendance, and it gave me a sense of belonging. Coming from a school that lacked diversity, I saw so many physicians of color there and recognized that I have a place in medicine. The influenced me to continue to pursue my goal of being a physician.

4. My advice for engaging in meaningful conversations on diversity would be to not only come with an open heart, but be willing to see someone else’s point of view. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to always be ready to learn the uncomfortable history of different racial, religious, sexual groups so that you can understand some of what may influence people you encounter. In addition, you must be open and honest with your personal beliefs, and be comfortable with those beliefs being challenged. It is of utmost importance to continue to learn and have conversations like these.



1. I was born in Downers Grove, Illinois, and moved to El Salvador a little over a year later. El Salvador was home until completing high school and beginning my college education at Baylor University. I completed a post-graduate year at the University of Pennsylvania before completing medical school training at UICOMP. I have called Peoria home since mid-2015 and have completed most of my medical training here, through medical school and now residency. As far as hobbies, I enjoy watching/playing soccer, playing tennis, video games, audiobooks, and a good gin.

2. It is difficult to pick a singular event, and honestly, at times, there are subtle experiences that linger. For example, entering a patient’s room who is primarily/exclusively Spanish-speaking and being able to provide the opportunity to freely communicate in their native language does not fail to produce a smile. Communicating in a familiar language provides a stark difference in the amount of information that is able to be obtained as well as patient education that is able to be provided as a result.

3. In the same vein as above, the ability to freely and openly communicate in your first language provides a sense of equality in care. To give a concrete example, I was asked to speak with a diabetic patient of a co-resident who was primarily Spanish-speaking and having issues reaching goal glycemic control on oral medications. Discussions need to occur regarding the possible need to initiate insulin therapy if no improvement is achieved by the next visit. Appropriately, my co-resident thought that conversation was best to occur in the patient’s first language and preferably in-person. The short conversation I had revealed a few of the barriers regarding her dietary adherence, apprehension regarding insulin use, and clarified dosing and frequency issues. Ultimately, a 10-minute conversation resulted in significantly improved glycemic control by the next visit and no need for insulin therapy. This simple interaction reinforced the importance of communication and how often good outcomes are not tied with the correct management choices but finding the best way to connect with our patients. To constantly strive for that connection to improve outcomes, regard- less of language and cultural barriers, is the goal of social equality in medicine.

4. Conversations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion often devolve into accusatory or the perception of accusatory language. I find that this often hinders our efforts to achieve those goals and fails to acknowledge that all participants play a significant role in the process. Moreover, all participants carry biases and preconceived notions that, most often and very importantly, are unintentional. The recognition of these biases and the active participation to account for them is a necessity; a way to bring all participants to eye level to initiate the necessary discussions for change.



1. I am Nadia Shaikh, a pediatric hospitalist and sedation physician at UICOMP. My early childhood memories are from Saudi Arabia where I stayed until I was 10 and then moved to Karachi, Pakistan. I did all my medical education there and then moved to the US and joined a residency program in New York. Our family moved to Peoria in 2016 and has loved staying here since then. We enjoy the outdoors whenever we get the opportunity. I love to go on short day trips with my husband, our 5-year-old son, and at times with friends.

2. Being a resident in NYC, I extensively used and enjoyed the subway experience. Sharing your every day with people from different countries, walks of life, cultures, and beliefs is something that only NYC can offer. The way people accommodate each other and respect the difference is truly a learning opportunity. Growing up in Pakistan, I wasn’t fortunate enough to live in such a diverse city and enjoyed noticing little acts of kindness that meant a lot and positively changed my perspective in understanding the value of being non-judgmental.

3. Nisha Rao recently became Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer. Part of their struggle was to have parliament pass bills to recognize them as equal citizens protecting them from discrimination and violence.

4. Be on the lookout for small things you can do to make others feel welcome. When people from diverse backgrounds are given the space in which they feel valued and appreciated, they effortlessly bring out their best work. One must also recognize the challenges that stand in the path of inclusion, whether they are coming from systems or people. Identifying the hurdles and working with colleagues to change them is a challenge one must be eager to take and have no hesitation in calling things out which needs to be changed.



1. I joined the Department of Family and Community Medicine as a residency faculty member in May 2007 after spending the previous 15 years practicing the full spectrum of family medicine in rural North Central North Carolina. . I practiced medicine at federally qualified community health centers for seven years before joining a private group practice for eight years. I was named residency program director in 2011, before being named Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UICOMP. I was born in the Bronx borough of New York City where I spent the first three years of my life before my family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I grew up. I received my BS in zoology from North Dakota State University where I was a member of the varsity basketball team for four years. I was awarded my MD from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and completed my family medicine residency training at Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. I am a member of the American and Illinois Academies of Family Physicians. I was named Illinois Academy of Family Physicians Teacher of the Year in 2009. I enjoy practicing the full spectrum of family medicine. The opportunity to teach residents and students all aspects of family medicine gives me meaning and pleasure.

My wife of 32 years, Shari, and I live in Peoria. My outside interests include visiting different college and university campuses to collect sweatshirts (my wife says I have over 150!), sports trivia, road biking, finding new places to eat barbecue, and reading murder mystery novels.

2. Seeing and experiencing the engagement of our minority medical students on DEI issues forcing medical school leadership to have meaningful conversations about these topics and enact real change.

3. The local, peaceful protests (medical staff members, UPH leadership, and hospital staff kneeling in public; fellow Family Medicine faculty and medical students joining a community protest) by a “rainbow” of people advocating for racial justice and police reform after the George Floyd murder.

UPH leadership lead by President/CEO Keith Knepp conducting a forum on racial inequality from the perspective of African-Americans as part of a hospital board retreat.

4. Realize that this topic is continuous and not “one and done”; come into the conversation wanting to know how to be an ally; be curious and educate yourself on DEI issues; acknowledge the difficulty of these conversations and validate the other person’s feelings.



1. I grew up in central Indiana, but my first experience in Peoria was attending Bradley University for undergrad. I will say, though, that coming back as an “adult” many years later is a much different perspective! Our family moved back to Peoria in 2017 and I was fortunate to join the faculty at UICOMP shortly before our first class of Peoria M1’s began in the Illinois Medicine Curriculum. Outside of work a lot of my time is spent on family activities.

2. My hometown area while I was growing up was not a diverse place, though I can’t recall instances of overt racism or intolerance. I think it was more that we were very sheltered from the realities of systemic racism and disparities that affect so many people. . I personally still have so far to go in learning about just how pervasive these problems are, and even still I think it’s hard not to get overwhelmed at the scope of what we need to fix when looking at the big picture. I am very grateful for the chance to be a part of the DEI Task Force in Peoria and to learn from everyone else involved. It makes me feel like we can play a part in making changes at UICOMP and in Peoria, and hopefully that contributes to a ripple effect that has increasingly broader impact.

3. Maybe because it’s what I’m most closely involved with, I’ve been interested to see how the events and protests of this summer and the larger Black Lives Matter movement has impacted medical education and the medical field. The involvement and advocacy of students and residents are inspiring to see, because they are the pipeline to affect real change.

4. I’m no exemplar who should be giving advice to anyone else on best practices in this area! I can only list what I try to do: be humble, constantly question/survey yourself to try and detect where you might be letting your own biases creep in, be an open listener, ask questions.

This feature is part of the Winter 2021 edition of Pathways.

Read the full issue.

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