By Geraldine Carroll, ASCO Publishing
Finding new ways to shine a spotlight on a broader range of abstracts featured at ASCO meetings will amplify diverse voices, advance cancer care equity, and potentially pave the way for more cancer research among minority and underserved populations in the future, according to Pamela Kunz, MD. Dr. Kunz took on the role of Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) consultant editor for meeting abstracts in June 2021; in the interview that follows she discusses her editorial priorities and the collaborative efforts that will advance equity in the selection of meeting abstracts. Dr. Kunz is an associate professor of medicine (medical oncology) and director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, and serves as the institution’s vice chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Medical Oncology. She was named 2021 Woman Oncologist of the Year by Women Leaders in Oncology (WLO).
What motivated you to take on the consultant editor role?
PK: I am deliberate about seeking and accepting opportunities if they have meaning and the potential for impact. The JCO consultant editor role has both and I am honored to become part of the JCO editorial team. As an editor it is my responsibility to uphold the principles of high integrity research and investigator conduct. In addition, editors have the privilege to serve as mentors and teachers in the editorial process, an area I hope to expand. The reach of JCO and ASCO is immense and represents a large platform on which to educate and advocate. Finally, I look forward to partnering with Ryan D. Gentzler, MD, MS, in his role as the associate consultant editor for meeting abstracts, a newly formed position that will also help expand the influence of meeting abstracts.
How do you plan to promote abstracts under the JCO brand?
PK: I hope to expand on three key areas. First, I believe strongly in the value of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) as it relates to authorship. I hope to help promote this through my role and as a member of the editorial team at large. Second, I would like to help expand the reach of the meeting abstracts through the strategic use of social media. We will be partnering with the JCO consultant editor for social media, Shannon Westin, MD, and the ASCO Annual Meeting communications team. Third, I would like to create more opportunities for trainees to learn the responsibilities and scope of editorship.
Social media has created a global community in oncology and we’re seeing an increasing number of tweetorials on #medtwitter. Will tweetorials have a role in advancing equity in meeting coverage?
PK: Yes—please be on the lookout for a new initiative using tweetorials of meeting abstracts for the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting. We plan to use tweetorials to strategically highlight specific themes, like EDI and global oncology. Tweetorials are a great way to advance equity around meeting abstracts, highlight abstracts that might have otherwise been overlooked, and amplify new authors; we also plan to involve trainees in the social media efforts.
Historically, what have been the barriers to featuring abstracts about underrepresented groups and authored by underrepresented groups at symposia and in journals in the oncology space?
PK: There is evidence to suggest that women are underrepresented as principal investigators of clinical trials and as first and senior authors of manuscripts. It will, therefore, be no surprise that women are also underrepresented at the podium at professional society meetings such as ASCO’s. There are many systemic barriers that contribute to this gender disparity; however, the first step is creating awareness and the second is creating opportunity. It is also important to note that disparities for authors who identify with [multiple] underrepresented characteristics are often greater, a function of intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, JD, defined as “a lens for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” In addition, abstracts from low-income or under-resourced countries may not be as large or perceived to have as much impact and, therefore, may not make the cut for the high-profile plenary or abstract presentations. The negative downstream consequences of limiting diverse authors, topics, and geography are profound. Diversity makes us all better.
Do you have tips for authors on how to increase their chances of getting their abstracts noticed and featured at meetings or in journals?
PK: I would suggest that authors highlight what makes their research innovative and diverse. For example, how does their research contribute to expanding our knowledge about diverse or underserved populations or a unique underlying biology? In addition, the job of “noticing” such abstracts is also the responsibility of ASCO and the JCO editorial team. ASCO is already very intentional about diversity for committee composition and invited speakers. However, we all need to think about more ways to recognize and promote science that may historically be underrepresented.
Congratulations on being named Woman Oncologist of the Year in 2021 by WLO. Women have indeed made enormous strides in scientific discovery, patient care, and leadership. However, women authors remain underrepresented, especially in lower-income countries. A lack of gender representation may risk a continuation of systemic bias in research priorities. What should the oncology community do to address authorship gender equity to ensure that research conducted reflects diverse perspectives?
Thank you! This award was an incredible honor, especially because it recognized my advocacy for gender equity in medicine and oncology. Finding solutions to dismantle gender disparities in authorship is a complex, multifaceted topic. In fact, I chaired an ASCO 2021 Education Session, “Dismantling Gender Disparities in the Global Oncology Workforce Together,”
that focuses on solutions. First, we need to collect data deliberately and relentlessly to create benchmarks. Demographic data on authorship are lacking at most journals—and this is a first step. We then need to focus on recruitment and retention of women and women of color in academic medicine. Next, we need to eliminate systemic barriers to opportunities for authorship. These include education sessions, mentorship, creating research and funding opportunities, etc. We also need to train male allies to support, amplify, and promote women. There are really so many concrete action items we can all take to promote gender equity in authorship. I challenge our readers to pick at least one.
Are there strategies that should be considered to increase the proportion of women authors in the first and last authorship positions on abstracts?
PK: Yes, and I believe it is important to think about these strategies separately as institutional or individual responsibilities. Institutions include large organizations, like academic institutions, the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, professional societies, and the journals themselves. The burden should fall largely on these institutions to eliminate systemic barriers to authorship for women, women of color, and women with other marginalized characteristics. Leaders, sponsors, and allies at these institutions must make diversity a central priority and opportunities for scholarship and authorship will follow. Lastly, I want to empower women to advocate for themselves and others. I challenge us all to look through the lens of equity in all that we do. Our workplaces, research, and patients will be better for it.