US Congresswoman, ASCO Agree on Need for Diversity in the Provider Workforce

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and Representative Robin Kelly emphasize need to increase healthcare workforce diversity to improve patient outcomes.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has, under guidance from ASCO’s Health Disparities Committee, published a strategic plan to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the oncology workforce. On the heels of ASCO’s plan, a commentary by Representative Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, in the National Urban League’s State of Black America report emphasized the need for “system diversification” in medicine.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) article states that diversity among healthcare providers has not kept pace with the increasingly racial and ethnic diversity of the US population. The article references research showing that while 13% of the population is African American and 18% is Hispanic or Latino, only 9% of practicing physicians in the United States self-identified as African American, or Hispanic/Latino, with an even lower number (2%) in oncology.

ASCO’s Health Disparities Committee has identified several barriers to diversification, including:

  • Limited exposure to oncologic specialties during medical school
  • Limited outpatient exposure, which provides an uneven view of specialty
  • Lack of oncology faculty among backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine
  • Bias in selection of oncology training program trainees

Emphasizing the importance of provider diversity in preventing health disparities, the Committee has developed a 3-year strategic plan to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the oncology workforce. The plan highlights 3 primary goals:

  1. Establish a pathway for increasing workforce diversity
  2. Enhance diversity within ASCO leadership
  3. Integrate a focus on diversity across ASCO programs and policies

“With this strategic plan, ASCO is strengthening its commitment to provide meaningful opportunities for medical students, residents, fellows, and practicing oncologists from underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities to participate and shape our priorities and activities,” said ASCO president Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO. “As a professional medical society, we can do much more to support the recruitment, training, and retention of oncologists from diverse backgrounds, particularly those who are underrepresented in oncology. This is a critically important step in that direction.”

In her commentary, Kelly cited research that has confirmed the impact of a physician’s race on patient adherence to healthcare recommendations.

“Minority patients are more likely to adhere to the health care recommendations provided by someone who looks like them,” she wrote.

She suggested that the training programs that bring in a diverse workforce should expose students to healthcare options, implement a hands-on approach to STEM curricula, and expand mentoring.