May 2023

Meet Sylk Sotto

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Sylk Sotto, EDD, MBA, MPS, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and serves in several leadership roles across Indiana University School of Medicine, the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center's Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. Professor Sotto teaches several courses in research ethics, culturally relevant practices in medicine, and Foundations of Clinical Practice in the Spanish immersion program. Her scholarship and research center on (in)equity in academic medicine. Her research interests include faculty affairs and professional development; STEM/medical education and inclusive learning environments; organizational leadership and structures; and the intersection of health equity and research ethics.

Family is very important to Professor Sotto. She is a mother, partner, daughter, sister and friend. In her free time, she enjoys spending my time with those whom she loves. Spending time with them is a gift that centers and grounds her.

I am committed to using my research to promote social justice and equity in academia and healthcare.

Professor Sylk Sotto

Top Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (left) with Indiana CTSI leaders Sarah Wiehe (center) and Sharon Moe (right). Bottom Left Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto with her AAIM Distinguished Service Award (left) standing next to Dean C. Brater (right). Bottom Right Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (left) at All IN for Health booth at county fair.

Top Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (left) with Mary Austrom (center) and Pat Treadwell (right). Bottom Left Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (right) at Gender Equity AAMC Conference. Bottom Right Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (center) at recruitment center in Puerto Rico for medical school.

Top Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (right) with mentor Dr. Mark Geraci (left). Bottom Left Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (far right) presenting research in the Netherlands with colleagues. Bottom Right Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (right) with mentor Frank Tuitt (left).

Top Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto (left) with colleague Sacha Sharp (right) at Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine Conference. Bottom Left Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto presenting research. Bottom Right Photo: Professor Sylk Sotto presenting research on Antiracist Frameworks for medical education and faculty development.

Professor Sylk Sotto (back center row) with IU Simon Cancer Center colleagues.

Q and A with Professor Sylk Sotto

I have been involved in biomedical, socio-behavioral, and educational research since I was an undergraduate student. The journey was largely a part of who I am and how I see the world. I was often the only “one” in way too many spaces. As I continued my career in higher education, I couldn’t ignore the experiences of the other “only ones”. One day, I decided that I wanted to be part of the change in higher education and academic medicine. I also wanted to be the one creating scholarship and most importantly, putting into practice the lessons learned. It was not a straight path. It had a lot of curves. I decided to pursue my doctorate in Higher Education after 15 years of progressive administration and leadership roles. I came to the faculty role, in what some may consider, a bit late in the game. However, I am doing exactly what I said I wanted to do and that is dismantling barriers in education and health faced by historically minoritized groups.

I am trying to create inclusive environments where people feel they belong and making sure that those most vulnerable have access to quality health care. My research helps me understand the experiences of individuals navigating academia and health systems, independent of their role as faculty, students, staff, health care professionals, researchers, leaders, or as patients. I strive to bring inequities to the forefront, exposing the disparities that disproportionately affect minoritized groups. I want this research to contribute to the body of knowledge that informs practice, policies, and interventions.

Impact is not easy to measure especially when we are talking about inclusive environments. Many times, we are so focused on the metrics that we forget to ask individuals at the very fundamental level, are you happy here? Do you feel supported? Are we providing what you need to succeed? As an institution, are we honoring your commitment? As an institution, are we really living out our mission? Does the community trust us? The list goes on and on. I know my work has made a difference for some: from the way they may look at mentoring, how they may develop antiracist curricula for medical education and faculty development, to how we measure trust and trustworthiness. But to be honest, the moments when I know I have moved the needle ever so slightly, is when I am not in the meeting, yet someone asked is this decision equitable? That I think is living inclusive excellence, that is cultural humility, that is intersectionality, and the list continues. This is the core of my research and how my research makes an impact.

My favorite part about my research is learning from others and its findings! I am a life-long learner. Every time that I think about a research question it does not only come from a place of curiosity and excitement, but also wondering what it could mean. How it may impact others? I love that I can be a translator, translating theoretical and conceptual frameworks into practice and how practice can also inform theories and policy.

Students are part of the reason why I do this work. As faculty, we can play a pivotal role in breaking down barriers for students and providing them with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. In return, students challenge our own understanding of the world, forcing us to evolve. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from my students, as they bring fresh perspectives and insights that enrich my own understanding and this research. I never take for granted the privilege of working with them. I make it a point to involve students at every stage of a project, recognizing the value of their contributions and the meaningful impact they can have. I have never said no to any student or trainee that wants to join my research projects. I believe, their involvement not only enhances their learning experience, but also brings a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction to my own work as an educator and researcher.

In my research and in my work, community members are part of the All IN for Health advisory board. All IN for Health is an initiative by the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, which includes partnerships with Purdue and Notre Dame. All IN for Health is dedicated to improving the health of Indiana residents by promoting health resources, increasing health research literacy, and promoting opportunities to participate in research and clinical studies. This work cannot be possible without the voices of community members. They help guide our efforts, provide us with important feedback, share strategies, and they are not afraid to speak their mind. I am blessed to do this work about issues important to communities in Indiana, “with” and “led” by amazing individuals.

As I consider my future trajectory, I am well-positioned to continue my research agenda and I hope to expand my community and publicly engaged scholarship. I think my role with the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, as health equity liaison, is opening my eyes to even more disparities and inequities that I might explore. Ultimately, I would like to take my research to the next level and see how it can really be part of a national agenda. I am exploring what critical public health and critical health studies could really look like if they were to inform health policy and advocacy. The next steps for my research will always be part of my service. I am committed to using my research to promote social justice and equity in academia and healthcare.

Conversation with Professor Sylk Sotto

On Friday, May 26, 2023 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m., Professor Sylk Sotto talked about "I am interested in helping restore trust": Perspectives on Trust and Trustworthiness in Biomedical Research." Trust is crucial in community-engaged research for fostering mutually respectful relationships. Measuring trust is important for evidence-based strategies to improve recruitment and engagement in biomedical research, and for practitioners and researchers to reflect on their own trustworthiness. During this conversation, Professor Sotto explored the concepts of trust and trustworthiness and offered practical approaches.