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Campus Life Community Faculty

New Leader Brings Disability, Access and Inclusion Expertise to the Campus Community

Lisa Meeks, PhD, MA, focuses on building disability inclusion into the systems on campus

Author Kiley Kudrna | Publish Date May 13, 2021
What You Need To Know

Lisa M. Meeks, PhD, MA, joins the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to lead the campus in new efforts to increase access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities in healthcare professions.

Lisa M. Meeks, PhD, MA, brings a wealth of experience to her new role as founding director of the Office for Disability, Access and Inclusion. Her work will have campuswide reach, making CU Anschutz the nation’s first health science campus to structurally align disability with diversity, equity and inclusion.

In this Q&A, Meeks explains what inspired her to enter this field, shares some of her goals and talks about how she was personally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q&A Header

Give us a little background. What were you doing before coming to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus?

Immediately prior to coming to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, I served as an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. Prior to that, I was an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where I also served as the director of Medical Student Disability Services.

What is your new role at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus?

At the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, I will continue my research in Disability, Access and Inclusion as an associate professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine. My portfolio will also include oversight of the new campus Office for Disability, Access and Inclusion (ODAI) and the development of a new research and policy program titled SUMMIT.

Importantly, the disability work at CU Anschutz will have a campus-wide reach, spanning across the Office for Student Affairs and Central Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, which will house the SUMMIT program, making it the nation’s first health science campus to structurally align disability with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I’m excited about the ability to radically reimagine disability inclusion in a manner that is truly built into the system. 

Can you tell us more about the SUMMIT program?

SUMMIT is a program designed to increase disability inclusion in health professions education through the framework of diversity, equity and inclusion with a vision to serve as the leading model and resource – nationally and internationally – on disability research and inclusion in health professions education. We have several objectives, including to:

  • Develop and engage in robust research focused on disability inclusion and access in health professions education.
  • Inform policy through recommendations to associations, accrediting bodies and institutions.
  • Serve as an innovative think tank for accessible education best and promising practices.
  • Become the premier resource center and consultation service for health science education.

We will accomplish this through our four domains: research, policy, practice and education. We have already received commitments from several institutions to join us in this work and engage in cross-institutional research and partnered initiatives.

I saw your JAMA Network essay, "A Piece of My Mind," about the need for humanity, empathy and grace during this pandemic. Could you explain what inspired you to write that piece, and how COVID-19 has affected you personally?

Thank you. The essay was a way for me to process the events surrounding the week that my mother was hospitalized, and eventually passed away.

Her hospitalization occurred nine months into the pandemic and the pressure and exhaustion of our workforce was evident, yet I was so surprised by the humanity that the healthcare workers showed our family, even under such exhausting conditions. I wanted to honor this humanistic care and our exchanges. In one of the worst moments of my life, the ICU nurses helped make an impossible scenario humanistic and comforting.

What is one of your main research interests and why?

I am really interested in how accessibility impacts performance. We’ve captured the growing rate of students who disclose disabilities to their institutions, but we haven’t fully investigated the impact of accommodations on performance and the downstream implications – for example on licensing boards and into practice.

What inspired you to work in improving access to medical education for learners with disabilities and reducing healthcare disparities in patients with disabilities?

The desire to provide equitable experiences is deeply ingrained in my upbringing. As a first-generation student from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background, I have always been deeply aware of disparate access to resources and experiences for various groups. My mother and extended family worked in educational settings and were deeply committed to the inclusion of children with disabilities. We grew up engaging with children and adolescents with disabilities as part of our everyday life.

That carried over into my first career as an educational psychologist in private practice, assessing children with disabilities. I was fascinated by the brain and how students who exhibited deficits in one area had unique strengths in others. The compensatory skills students used during the evaluations were equally intriguing.

When I moved from private practice to disability resources, it seemed like a natural progression of the work, helping students tap into their compensatory skills and find their strengths. In these exchanges I saw a lot of innovation and novel problem solving, a skill we need in health professions. Looking at the issue from a systems perspective, I found research that directly links physician’s lack of information about disability with disparate access to healthcare and poorer patient outcomes. I began to see the potential, through the inclusion of healthcare providers with disabilities, to reduce healthcare disparities for patients with disabilities.

Welcome to Colorado! What’s on your Colorado bucket list?

I’m thrilled to spend some time in Colorado. Vail is one of my favorite destinations, and I love all things “outdoors.” I can’t wait to explore the city and the surrounding area.