Dr Karen Winkfield on Chief PCOC 2020 Message, Importance of Diversity in the Oncology Workforce

September 11, 2020

Understanding each patient's individual story is vital in the transition to patient-centered care. Additionally, matching patients with physicians of the same race and background can boost comfortability among patients.

Understanding each patient's individual story is vital in the transition to patient-centered care. Additionally, matching patients with physicians of the same race and background can boost comfortability among patients, said Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, associate director for community outreach and engagement at Wake Forest Baptist Health and associate professor of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University.

Transcript

AJMC®: What is the chief message you hope to share with the attendees at Patient-Centered Oncology Care® 2020?

Dr Winkfield: I am a huge advocate of listening to your patients. Every patient who walks in the door, every single one of them has their own story. So, we cannot lump, we can't split. We just have to see the person who's in front of us, and that requires taking a little time sometimes.

We might just have to say, "I want to get to know this patient so that I can give them the best care so that we can be..." Patient-centered means that we have to stop and see the individual who's in front of us and listen to the communities and find out what their resources are, find out who their support systems are, and meet those individuals right where they are.

AJMC®: Your work on the issue of cancer disparities has highlighted the challenges of attracting underrepresented minorities into oncology and biomedical research. Can you discuss why changing the oncology workforce is essential to reducing disparities in cancer outcomes?

Dr Winkfield: There have been several of us over the past several decades who have recognized that workforce diversity is really an important component of ensuring that patients have people who look like them, who have similar backgrounds as them, so they feel comfortable.

We know that, particularly in this era now where there's been more and more attention paid to some of the racial injustices that have happened over time, that frequently individuals who are from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented don't feel comfortable walking into cancer centers or into hospitals or into doctors' offices.

In fact, if you look back 50 years ago, there was segregation, and so they would not have been allowed to go into some of these institutions. So, it really is important to make sure that our workforce, our oncology workforce, and our primary care workforce is representing the individuals that we're trying to care for. We have a lot of work to do. The pipeline is not not strong.

You mentioned other STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] careers. It's not just about clinicians. I would love to have lots and lots of physicians of color, but we also need other individuals, whether it be nurses or scientist, researchers. These are all important individuals and components of what it means to really take care of individuals who are from backgrounds that are traditionally disenfranchised.