Dr. Michele Halyard on a lifetime commitment to health equity, inclusion and diversity
Mayo Clinic cares for patients from all backgrounds who turn to us for hope and healing. Yet systemic racism, discrimination and unconscious bias have had an outsized effect on groups that have been underserved in health care.
In July 2020, Mayo Clinic announced a $100 million commitment to eliminate racism and advance equity and inclusivity over the next decade.
This Black History Month, Mayo Clinic Magazine is highlighting the work of physicians who are working to improve diversity and health equity at Mayo Clinic and beyond.
This article originally appeared on the Mayo Clinic News Network website. Learn more at newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org.
Michele Halyard, M.D., began her journey as a radiation oncologist at Mayo Clinic 36 years ago. Today, Dr. Halyard is recognized as one of the most influential and impactful leaders in the movement toward health equity.
"I loved Mayo and decided that I wanted to practice at Mayo in Arizona. I joined the staff here in 1989, and it really has been a tremendous journey," says Dr. Halyard, a physician in Mayo Clinic's Radiation Oncology Center.
It’s a journey that began with concerns about a lack of diversity.
"I didn't see a lot of people of color at the clinic, either working or as patients," Dr. Halyard says. "I thought, what a shame that was, because of the preeminence of health care that we deliver."
She feared that lack of diversity could negatively impact patient outcomes.
"People who perhaps feel shut out from the health care system, people who experience structural racism that prevents them from getting in for the best care, that really results in excess death, excess suffering amongst populations of people," Dr. Halyard says. "It's not just underrepresented people, it's people who are really not in that population that can take advantage of all that there is to offer."
A mission to increase health equity
In 2011, Dr. Halyard founded the nonprofit organization Coalition of Blacks against Breast Cancer to raise awareness of the risks of breast cancer in Black men and women.
"We go out into the community to educate about the importance of breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship," says Dr. Halyard.
The organization now also raises awareness about prostate cancer.
Dr. Halyard also serves as the Suzanne Hanson Poole Vice Dean of Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine and the dean of the Arizona campus. She also mentors physician colleagues.
"It's very hard to put into words the impact that she's had as a role model on myself and so many others as a Black female. She has served in such a leadership role for so many years," says Sarah James, M.D., Ph.D.
After nearly four decades at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Halyard looks back with a feeling of progress, and forward, with hope.
"In the beginning, where people didn't even feel comfortable talking about the word diversity, to now, having an Everybody IN initiative where we've devoted $100 million to fighting racism," says Dr. Halyard. "I think we've come a long way."