Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, Named a Recipient of U of M’s 2021 Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Award

Assistant Professor Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, has been named a recipient of the University of Minnesota's inaugural 2021 Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Award. This award honors faculty who have done significant research, teaching or service/leadership to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Minnesota, in the person's field of study or in the broader community.

These awards intend to advance and elevate equity work; provide funding in recognition of the value of that work; and showcase critical scholarship, pedagogy, and community engagement.

"Dr. Brooke Cunningham has been studying racism in medicine and in the exam room long before the recent reckoning for racial justice that occurred in 2020," said Andrea Westby, MD, faculty and vice chair for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

In her first year as UMN faculty (2014-2015), Dr. Cunningham provided the deans for undergraduate medical education with content ideas for a longitudinal health disparities curriculum. At that time, she offered to teach about race as a social construct and the mechanisms through which racism affects health. She gave her first lecture on these topics to the first-year medical students as part of the 2015-2016 Essentials of Clinical Medicine course.

Since then, she has lectured each year and co-directs the UMN Medical School's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Thread, where she leads integration of DEI topics into all years of medical education. In this role, she also aligns and advances DEI curricular goals and initiatives utilizing a critical race lens and pedagogy. With her co-director, she leads a cohort of UMN Medical School faculty, staff, and students as part of a national learning collaborative for "Anti-Racist Transformation in Medical Education."

Dr. Cunningham's research is grounded in a community-engaged approach and centers on race as a social construct and its intersection with medicine. In 2019, she received an NIH K23 career development award to develop an intervention to improve providers' ability to communicate about racism as a health risk factor.

"Dr. Cunningham's forward thinking is why she is a tremendous addition to our clinical research faculty and academic medicine," said Jim Pacala, MD, MS, head of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. "She persisted in pursuing this line of antiracism research despite the naysayers and prior to our current awakening."

Medical school leaders regularly seek out Dr. Cunningham to consult on JEDI-related issues. She frequently lectures about race, racism, and health at other medical schools such as Duke, University of Massachusetts Worchester, UCLA, and Meharry, and at national meetings such as the Association for American Medical Colleges' annual meeting.

In addition to her faculty position and research, Dr. Cunningham practices internal medicine at the Community-University Health Care Clinic (CUHCC), a federally-qualified health clinic in Minneapolis that serves a diverse and largely underserved patient population.

Dr. Cunningham acknowledges that her path has not been linear, nor easy:

"I have persisted because I believe large numbers of faculty and students share my values and goals for a more equitable care system that advances both individual and community health. My overarching goal is to improve the health of historically marginalized groups by improving healthcare personnel's knowledge, skills, and motivation to understand and eliminate racism as a health risk factor."

To help support her vital work, Dr. Cunningham will receive a one-time $10,000 award to further her efforts in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

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