Student Success

‘True leader’

OUWB M4 Eric James receives Diversity & Inclusion Student Excellence Award

An image of Eric James

Eric James, rising M4, was presented the award at OUWB’s 2022 Honors Convocation on May 12. (Photo by Chuck Cloud)

OUWB, Oakland University, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine

icon of a calendarJuly 6, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Andrew Dietderich

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An OUWB medical student identified as “a true leader among his peers” has been awarded the school’s 2022 Diversity & Inclusion Student Excellence Award.

Eric James, M4, was presented the award at OUWB’s 2022 Honors Convocation on May 12.

The award is among the many initiatives led by OUWB’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council (DEIC), designed to recognize students committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion through their actions that produce tangible outcomes and results.

“I was definitely really honored to receive this award,” said James. “It also sends a really important message that diversity and inclusion is something that we really value at OUWB.”

Tiffany Williams, Ph.D., director, Diversity & Inclusion, presented James with the award.

“Eric is a true leader among his peers,” Williams said during the Honors Convocation ceremony. “His contributions have had a great impact and helped change the way we think about (diversity, equity, and inclusion) within our community.”

‘I want to go there’

James lived in Canton, Michigan, until the fourth grade. That’s when his family relocated to Commerce Township.

He said the time spent in Canton played a big role in his life.

“It’s a very diverse community so that was something really formative for me,” he said.

As an undergrad, James attended University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he majored in biochemistry and psychology, and minored in chemistry.

James said he “always thought about” one day becoming a doctor. One of the key moments in eventually arriving at the decision to do so was a visit with a pediatrician at the age of 15.

“I remember distinctively the doctor asked if I was sexually active and if I was using birth control,” he said. “Meanwhile, I was figuring out that I was gay and I most certainly did not need birth control.”

The experience, he said, left James wishing the doctor had taken a different approach.

Specifically, he said, he wanted his doctor to be supportive, open to answering his questions, and serve as an advocate for him. It also left James feeling like he eventually might want to serve in the role of a compassionate physician.

“I just realized that I could have a really big impact on patients,” he said.

“It’s so important that young people are able to get the care that they need without feeling like they’re not welcome in their own physician’s office.”

James applied to all the medical schools in Michigan, and admits that he didn’t know much about OUWB before he visited to interview.

Once he did learn more, however, James said he particularly was impressed by the school’s sense of community.

“I’d already been accepted at another school and was pretty set on going there, but then came to interview day at OUWB and was like ‘Oh my gosh, I want to go there,’” he said.

An image of Tiffany Williams and Eric James talking to each other

Tiffany Williams, Ph.D., director, Diversity & Inclusion, and Eric James chat prior to the 2022 Honors Convocation. (Photo by Chuck Cloud)

Making a difference

James said that he feels good about the decision to attend OUWB, especially since he has had “a lot of different opportunities to try and influence making change.”

During the Honors Convocation ceremony, Williams said that James “has been involved in numerous organizations and leadership positions, many of which have been directly related to diversity and inclusion.”

Specifically, Williams noted James has been involved with OUWB student organizations: Queers & Allies; Medical Students for Choice; American Medical Association; American Medical Student Association; Emergency Medicine Interest Group; and Internal Medicine Interest Group.

Further, he has served as a national member of the AMA Medical Student Section Standing Committee on LGBTQ+ Affairs, where, among other things, he authored a report on the importance of accurate terminology, policy, and resolution on allyship training.

James also is a student representative on OUWB’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and the curriculum committee that makes suggestions in areas where curriculum can be improved with regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

He also has authored several published papers and given presentations on topics related to diversity and inclusion. He also contributed to OUWB’s Call to Action, which was featured in the Journal of Academic Medicine and has been described as “an effort to highlight opportunities to improve” OUWB’s curriculum.

“It’s really important for medical students to be particularly in tune to issues of diversity and inclusion because it’s one of the biggest challenges in health care and the disparities that we see are immense and growing,” said James.

James said that he views the diversity award as a driver to continue pursuing change.

“Receiving an award like this gives me a push to keep going and do more because it’s an area that I think is huge in health care and in the country, in general,” he said.

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