Three Ways to Increase Diversity in Cardiology

doctor pamela douglasAn Interview Series with Dr. Pamela Douglas, Ursula Geller Professor for Research in Cardiovascular Disease, Duke University School of Medicine 

Last week I spoke to Dr. Pamela Douglas about the lack of women in cardiology, but women aren’t the only group missing. Certain racial and ethnic groups are also woefully underrepresented. In her role as chair of the American College of Cardiology Task Force on Diversity, she and her fellow members are working to develop concrete ways to increase the number of women and people of color who choose cardiology as a career. In our second interview, Dr. Douglas discussed some of the task force’s findings and recommendations.

We’ve talked a lot about women in cardiology, what about other underrepresented minorities?

This is also a big problem. In one of my recent publications, we cited some data from the American Medical Association and the American Council on Graduate Medical Education that found that, in the 2015 and 2016 school year, only 5.4% of cardiology trainees were African American and only 6.8% were Hispanic. When you compare this to the general population, clearly there’s an imbalance.

What’s keeping people of color out of the field?

For women, the issue isn’t the pipeline – there are plenty of women in medical school and internal medicine training, they just aren’t going into cardiology. For people of color, it really is a pipeline problem. There’s a deeper issue with getting those individuals into a professional mindset where they want to pursue a medical degree. They don’t see themselves as being able to become physicians because of a number of factors including low socioeconomic status and a lack of role models.

Can you talk about the work the task force is doing?

The ACC Task Force on Diversity started meeting at the beginning of this year, and we’ve assembled some of the brightest diversity experts from across the country. We’re currently trying to develop a set of recommendations to help the ACC increase recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities. So far, we’ve presented draft objectives which we are working on finalizing.

What are the objectives you’ve presented?

There are three main areas. First, we need a systems approach to mitigate the effects of the unconscious bias that’s holding back some underrepresented groups. That involves a robust communications effort, including uncovering some of the “hidden figures” stories in cardiology and finding ways to recognize and value diversity and inclusion efforts. This could be creating awards or learning from those who have done a good job. Diversity and inclusion need to become core values that we as a field act on.

Second is a focus on individual talent. A large proportion of trainees are currently opting out of cardiology careers, so we need to recruit, retain, and promote qualified individuals, and these outreach efforts need to start at the high school and college level. We need to identify and target people who are capable and give them the leadership training that they need to be successful.

The third objective is accountable execution at the ACC. We need to be identifying the right data, tracking it and publishing it so we can know when we improve. Diversity should become a key part of who we are and a part of what every committee does. Some of the numbers are eye-opening, but good, let’s open some eyes so we can create meaningful change!

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