Dr. Kevin Thomas was named the School of Medicine’s assistant dean for underrepresented faculty development this year.

The newly-created position will support medical faculty members in developing their career goals and the paths to get there. Thomas, who has been at Duke since 1999, is an associate professor in the department of medicine in the division of cardiovascular disease and began as assistant dean Sept. 1.

“I think it’s something that everyone struggles with independent of race or gender or whatever population you may represent, but particularly when we looked at racial and ethnic groups, there seemed to be an opportunity to help,” Thomas said. “I think people focus on their career objectives, what they want to do, and then tie in the many resources that currently exist at a place like Duke to allow people to be in the best infrastructure to make that happen.”

In the new position, Thomas will collaborate with the School’s Office for Faculty Development led by Dr. Ann Brown, vice dean for faculty. His job will be to help tailor existing programs—which include trainings on applying for grants or getting promoted—to underrepresented groups.

“I don’t want to carry my own biases and perceptions of what I think is needed,” he said. “What I’m doing in the first several months of this is just collecting data.”

Gathering such data will allow him to help discover what issues minority faculty members face and target new and modified programs that already exist to the specific groups that need them, he said.

Thomas, who is a clinical electrophysiologist by training and also researches health disparities, said that it is often easy for faculty to get lost in the “siloed” nature of the institution. For underrepresented faculty, finding connections and mentors can be “daunting,” he added. Creating relationships is one way to help.

“Role models and people you connect with come in all different forms,” Thomas said, noting that mentors are often a major factor in success. “It’s also important to be able to look at someone who looks like you, who has your same cultural background and who can really connect with you in a special way to really understand the struggles you’re having.”

Judy Seidenstein, the School’s chief diversity officer, said she was looking forward to collaborating with Thomas.

“In his new role, Dr. Thomas can now bring even more zoom focus to addressing the important topic of URM [underrepresented minority] faculty development and career progression that aligns with our ongoing commitment to cultivating a climate focused on 'thriving' versus 'surviving,'” she wrote in an email.

Thomas explained that his position will be distinct from Seidenstein’s in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion—Seidenstein works more on ensuring the School’s culture is inclusive for students, faculty and staff, while Thomas will primarily help aid current faculty.

Seidentstein said that Thomas is planning to create a mentorship program, launch new seminars and establish conferences.

Thomas noted that the two will work closely together. Thomas's task of helping underrepresented faculty requires the healthy environment that the diversity office seeks to facilitate.

After last November’s community forum, Provost Sally Kornbluth announced that the University would create a vice provost for faculty advancement position, which would be responsible for promoting “diversity and inclusion” on campus, similar to Thomas's role in the School of Medicine.

Eleven months later, the search to fill that position is still ongoing, Kornbluth confirmed in an email.