Sonja Boone Finds Mentoring Key to Diversity
by Cheryl SooHoo
Sonja (Davis) Boone, MD ’90, is no novice when it comes to minority physician recruitment. Long before her current position as director of diversity and medical director of physician recruitment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH), she assisted Northwestern’s medical school in its efforts to attract a diverse student body.
“When I was a medical student, the Admissions Office asked if I would help with student recruiting trips to black colleges,” recalls Dr. Boone, who also served as president of the Student National Medical Association chapter at Northwestern and a member of the medical school’s Minority Affairs Advisory Committee during her student days. “I never ever saw these activities as a glimpse at what I would be doing in the future.”
Dr. Boone’s first attempts at minority physician recruitment proved successful. For example, she recruited Northwestern medical student Fulton L. Porter III, MD ’93, who later joined the faculty as instructor in clinical medicine. Since developing and implementing the Medical Staff Diversity Initiative for NMH in 1999, Dr. Boone has helped increase the minority medical staff at the hospital by 81 percent. Minority (African American and Latino) physicians represented 4.9 percent of the total medical staff in 2004 compared with 2.7 percent in 1999.
“Minority physicians are often the mentors and catalysts who help recruit future minority physicians as well as patients,” explains Dr. Boone, instructor in clinical medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “Their involvement is all a part of reaching back, giving back, and helping to diversify a medical staff that better reflects the communities we serve.”
Encompassing more than physician recruitment, the Office of Diversity supports NMH’s commitment to being a diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent organization, according to Dr. Boone. In her role, she promotes institution-wide programs and initiatives that affect hospital employees (some 6,000) at all levels. For example, she was instrumental in the hospital’s initiative to offer same sex domestic partner benefits for the first time in 2001. Since 1999 the proportion of underrepresented minority managers has grown from 12 to 18 percent. This effort also impacts the recruitment of residents and fellows in training. Says Dr. Boone, “Recruiting is only one part of the diversity program, which also focuses on representation, inclusiveness, and cultural competency.”
Dr. Boone credits her success to learning from the experiences of institutions such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California at San Francisco. “These places have all been able to significantly grow their minority recruitment in a 10-year period,” explains Dr. Boone. “I found through my research and benchmarking that minority physician recruitment programs must have champions in senior management who support the initiatives, a minority physician to run the program, and dedicated funds to be productive and yield the desired results.”
After graduating from the medical school, Dr. Boone went on to residency training in internal medicine at Chicago’s Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center (now Rush University Medical Center). She then served a year as chief resident in 1993. Specializing in women’s health issues, she worked at the Rush Center for Women’s Medicine before becoming medical director at the Edward Hospital Center for Women’s Health in Naperville, Illinois, in 1996.
“In the 1990s women’s health was emerging,” says Dr. Boone. “Until then very little attention had been paid to it.”
In 1998 NMH recruited Dr. Boone as a consultant to develop a formal program for minority physician recruitment—the Medical Staff Diversity Initiative. Thrilled with the program’s success over a short 18-month period, NMH’s senior management team asked her to become director of diversity as well as remain medical director of physician recruitment.
Passionate about mentoring minority medical students, Dr. Boone views all students as a valuable “pipeline” to the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University. Says Dr. Boone, who also serves as mentor for the “Boone College” at the Feinberg School, “Studies show that approximately 30 percent of physicians will stay on staff or return to their alma mater after they finish their medical education and training if the environment is welcoming.” In fact, Dr. Boone’s return to Northwestern adds credibility to these findings.
“I have had some really wonderful mentors,” remarks Dr. Boone. “It has been great for me to come back and have a positive influence on an institution that has so deeply affected me.”
(Reprinted from the Spring 2005 issue of Ward Rounds.)