Sonali Paul,MD: Recipient of the 2022 DOM Diversity Award

Sonali Paul, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology  & Nutrition)  is the recipient of the 2022 Department of Medicine Diversity Award.

Dr. Paul is a rising star in the field of gastroenterology who practices as a transplant hepatologist and has a passion for promoting health equity. She has fostered pluralism within unity and affirmed  multiple identities that individuals may adopt, with determined and intentional effort to affirm the historically marginalized LGBTQI+ community. She has a strong commitment to reduce the disparities in health and health care delivery to this population and has made tremendous impact on the cultural climate not only within our department and within our institution, but also within the national professional gastrointestinal and hepatology societies. Her tireless efforts and forward thinking have elevated cultural diversity to more visible and more respected levels.

Dr. Paul joined the faculty in the Department of Medicine in 2016. Since her arrival, she started working at the grass roots level to promote diversity and health care equity in our workplace, not just for patients but also for colleagues. While establishing her academic and clinical niche in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), she has been working just as zealously on her other passion to promote health care equity, particularly in the LGBTQI+ population.

Since 2019, Dr. Paul has served as the Chair of the GI’S Diversity and Inclusion Committee. In this role, she introduced cultural sensitivity into the training curriculum of the fellows and has fostered recruitment of underrepresented minorities, including the LGBTQI+ population, into the program. She also has successfully disseminated her zeal for cultural sensitivity to her faculty colleagues by inviting speakers to the section’s clinical grand rounds.    Beyond the section, she has also been sharing knowledge, cultivating awareness of health care inequities and advocating for interventions to overcome such challenges amongst the medical residents. Some tangible fruits of Dr. Paul’s work in this arena include the documentation of preferred gender identity of patients into our electronic medical records, the use of pronoun cards on ID badges as a welcoming symbol to our LGBTQI+ patients, and the use of pronouns on profiles at zoom meetings. She is continuing to work on creating a physically welcoming environment within our clinics that would allow our LGBTQI+ patients to feel safer and more comfortable.

While Dr. Paul earned regional and national reputation as a NAFLD and obesity expert in the past years, she has also become known for her expertise in gender identity and health care disparities in the LGBTQI+ patient population through her publications as well as speaking engagements. She has published articles related on this topic in widely circulated journals such as the American Journal of Gastroenterology that not only addressed the nuances from the patient perspective, but also validated the experiences of the medical provider as well. She presented “Embrace the Rainbow: Creating Inclusive LGBTQ+ Spaces in Medicine” at   Medicine Grand Rounds, which was a major learning experience for many of us. In addition, she has given multiple presentations on “Overcoming the Challenges and Mitigating the Disparities in our LGBTQI+ Patients” in various academic institutions throughout the country. Her national reputation in this field has led to appointments on the diversity committee of, not one but three, prominent gastroenterology and/or hepatology societies in the United States, namely, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Gastroenterology Association, and American College of Gastroenterology.

Most recently, she is the Founder and President of Rainbows in Gastro, a new organization that brings LGBTQI+ medical trainees and physicians together. This organization is guided by the mission statement of CHARM: community, healing, advocacy, research, mentorship. She is working towards molding this organization to serve as a conduit for an annual summit where education and research about the LGBTQI+ population can be facilitated and conducted.