Moving Forward Together Against Racism

Dear colleagues,

As we enter another day of mass protests across our country in response to images of the brutal and heartbreaking deaths of Black Americans in recent weeks, we understand that many within our UF Health family may be experiencing periods of despondency and anger. As leaders of the state’s premier academic health center that is charged with educating the next generation of health care providers and scientists as well as with caring for the health and well-being of our community, we want to assure you that we are united in working to combat racism and to eliminate health disparities and inequities that contribute to the racial divide in our country.

In the last 13 weeks, the people of UF Health have responded to extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak in remarkable fashion. Together, you have demonstrated resilience, resourcefulness and sacrifice during a time of so many uncertainties. Today, we find ourselves grappling with another national crisis — one that tells us that we have much work to do to overcome the endemic problems caused by racism and pervasive socioeconomic inequity.

As health care providers, we recognize better than most how compounding stressors on minority populations, including policies that create social and economic conditions and health inequities, lead to poor outcomes and lower life expectancies. A prime example is how racial and ethnic minority groups across the United States have been disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more in this medical school deans’ op-ed piece in USA Today.

Here at UF Health, we understand our vital role and obligation to our community, and we will continue to strive to ameliorate these disparities while fostering and embracing a culturally sensitive, diverse and inclusive environment for our workforce our students and our patients.

At UF Health, people from so many differing backgrounds and ethnicities have come together to fight the scourge brought on by the coronavirus. UF Health can be an example for others in this time when respect and compassion for one another is crucial if we are going to build better and stronger communities for all.

Our entire UF Health family has united in the past under the banners of Forward Together, the Power of Together and most recently of One UF. Let this concept of together be our rallying cry for the days ahead. Let it inform how we care for and work with one another and with our community; how we acknowledge each other’s differences, challenges and pain; and how personal experiences shape us. Together we can work to effect important change in society that is so desperately needed.

Thank you,

David R. Nelson, M.D.
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, UF
President, UF Health

Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H.
Interim Dean, UF College of Medicine

Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA
CEO, UF Health Jacksonville
Dean, UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville

Ed Jimenez
CEO, UF Health Shands

Don Henderson, FACHE
CEO, UF Health Central Florida

Additional Messages from:

Leon L. Haley Jr. | Don Henderson | Ed Jimenez | Joseph A. Tyndall | UF Health Deans

June 4 marks UF Health Jacksonville’s official 150th anniversary, an incredible milestone that unfortunately has taken a backseat to first, the COVID-19 pandemic and now, heartbreaking deaths of African-Americans, subsequent protests and riots across the country.

As we have done throughout a century and a half, UF Health has risen to meet even the most significant challenge, like these recent events. These past several months have shown just how talented and resourceful you are. I am honored to be leading this organization, and you should be proud of the work you and your co-workers do every day.

The pandemic has revealed what many experts predicted — some of the country’s most vulnerable populations are the ones most affected by COVID-19. UF Health strives to serve our entire community, including those who may not otherwise receive equitable care. Living up to our mission to heal, to comfort, to educate and to discover is what makes UF Health so special to the fabric of Northeast Florida.

Recent protests throughout the nation have also highlighted how much further we need to go to ensure equality, fairness and justice for all of our citizens. Last night, our city experienced some of the friction that has been going on in other areas throughout the country. We should all be passionate about peaceful protest, but we must also condemn violence, no matter who it is directed toward.

What has happened in Brunswick, New York City and Minneapolis is difficult to watch and serves as a painful — and powerful — reminder that there is much work to do toward bringing people together to create a more unified, diverse and inclusive culture. UF Health comprises people from many races and cultures that work together to solve problems for all patients, and I believe we are an example that others can follow.

The respect and compassion you show one other and the people we serve, no matter who they are or where they come from, is an incredible example of how we are better when we stand together. The hospital’s Diversity Council has done great work over the years to show how our different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds create a strong, vibrant organization. Additionally, we have established the UF Health Science Center’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Advisory Council. Please take advantage of our ongoing education offered through HealthStream courses, as well as upcoming opportunities to enhance understanding and support the work of both groups.

I encourage you to communicate respectfully with your colleagues and leaders on topics concerning diversity and inclusion. As you continue to fill the role of healers to our patients, please also reach out to one another to show appreciation of our differences, and most importantly how we can continue to work together to make our organization a leader in this city.


Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA
CEO, UF Health Jacksonville
Dean, UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville

Each of us has been affected by the horrific tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis last week. It is my sincere hope that the necessary steps are taken so that systemic patterns of racial discrimination can be permanently eradicated from our society. At UF Health Central Florida, we condemn racism in all forms and stand with those in our community who suffer under its devastating influence. As the region’s most comprehensive health care provider, we realize that in so doing we live out our mission to improve the health and quality of life of the individuals and communities we serve.

Don Henderson, FACHE
CEO, UF Health Central Florida

I write to you today after much thought and reflection about last week’s tragic events. Many of us have been deeply affected as we grapple with the senseless killing in Minneapolis and the subsequent violence that has taken place throughout our country. Now, more than ever, we must promise each other that we will stand together, united in a common purpose, acknowledging each other’s differences while supporting each other to effect societal change. Now is the time to seek clarity, through our eyes and in our souls.

As I thought about what to say and how to express my feelings, several descriptive words came to mind. These words ranged from disappointment to anger to frustration to helplessness (and several others quite honestly). And, in every one of those words and feelings, I couldn’t help but think about why we are here. At the same time, I contemplated how we best move forward. We must make a promise to ourselves and to each other to be better … as health care providers, as co-workers, as humans.

In many ways, UF Health Shands is a beacon. Our hospitals provide a guiding light to so many. In this context, I think we need to advocate for what is right. Treating everyone equally, regardless of race or color, should be a core value and a starting point for change. It’s more important than ever for us to listen to each other and facilitate constructive dialogue that leads to healing.

The past several days have been an awful reminder of how far we still have to go. Clearly, this is not an isolated incident nor is it limited to certain pockets of the country. We are witnessing a historic time filled with fear and sadness. I hope that we can use these recent events as learned lessons to help us move forward. We must use these experiences as an impetus to live our lives in ways that will improve our community. However, this improvement needs to be sustained forever. We owe it to each other to combat racism and to eliminate the inequities that contribute to the racial divide in our country.

I stand with you in recognizing that what has happened over the past week is reprehensible. I stand with you for change. I stand with you to be better.

Thank you for all that you do.

Edward Jimenez
Chief Executive Officer
UF Health Shands

This week, I co-authored a message that was distributed to the UF Health system from our senior vice president for health affairs. I also note and truly applaud impassioned emails from James Davis and Michelot Michel, president and academic chairs of the College of Medicine classes of 2022 and 2023, respectively, as well as a powerful message from David Skorton, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, and David Acosta, M.D., chief diversity and inclusion officer of the AAMC. This period of time in our country has become more extraordinary than we could have imagined. On the heels of COVID-19 disproportionally affecting minority communities, we have more blatant evidence of the endemic problems of racism our country has faced for generations. I am heartbroken by recent images of the latest heinous act of deadly force against a black American. What we are experiencing now as a result is the culmination of a long history of unspeakable injustices and tragedies — many of which would not have made the light of day without our ubiquitous personal cameras and social media platforms. It drives us to tears as we watch, horrified and stunned that such acts can be possible today in the United States.

Taking this all in with the other recent images of violations of human rights — with oftentimes deadly results — has in truth created periods of despondency. I too have experienced the hood of a police car decades ago as a teen for driving the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. Seeing these images is enough to make me physically hurt. My daughters often remind me that, as a black man I too fall into the depths of this vulnerable space for which there are no boundaries, even when I think that the work I do somehow protects me. I have no way of defining the emotion. In my sadness, it is constricting and oppressive.

I have come to recognize how this affects all of us — black, white or any other ethnicity or color of skin we represent. We have entered a time where conversations between and among our students, faculty, staff and patients are ones that must acknowledge our differences, the pain we feel, the challenges we face and how our personal experiences have shaped us. To our students especially, we hear you and I feel the pain and discouragement and understand the uncertainty, but we must encourage this dialogue and engagement with each other and in our community.

Last fall, I attended a meeting of the AAMC and witnessed one of the most powerful and moving keynote presentations in recent memory. Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice activist and author, spoke about the four steps to change the world: get proximity, change the narrative, stay hopeful and be willing to do uncomfortable things. As we grapple with the tide of divisiveness across our country and within our communities, we must stand together — not just in hope, but also with an intentionality to change the narrative of endemic racism. In this time of COVID-19, the term social distancing adds a connotation antithetical to what we should truly be embracing, which is our social connectedness. Indeed, in highlighting the importance of being proximate, Stevenson says “Change is impossible when working at a distance.”

Let’s find time to connect with each other and to share our perspectives, our challenges and yes, our pain. We can learn from each other, learn from our patients and our community and perhaps begin to understand how we can truly effect important change in society. In the coming weeks, the College of Medicine’s Office for Diversity and Health Equity will develop ways to help us continue to engage each other, especially those most vulnerable in our midst.

Together, we must and will stand to face down racism and endemic prejudices and inequity in society.

Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H.
Interim Dean
UF College of Medicine

Messages from Our Colleges

Letter to UF College of Dentistry Family
Isabel Garcia
Dean, College of Dentistry

A message from the UF College of Nursing

Anna M. McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Professor, College of Nursing

College of Pharmacy Family Stand Together Against Racism and Racial Prejudices
Julie A. Johnson, Pharm.D.
Dean and Distinguished Professor, College of Pharmacy
College of Pharmacy Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Shock, Sorrow, and Social Responsibility
Michael G. Perri, PhD, ABPP
Dean, College of Public Health and Health Professions

The UF College of Veterinary Medicine family stands against racism and racial prejudices
Dana N. Zimmel, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP
Interim Dean, UF College of Veterinary Medicine

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