Apr 16, 2013
Promoting mentor-mentee relationships will help with workforce shortages and health care disparities
This spring, ASCO launched its Diversity Mentoring Program, a cornerstone piece of the ASCO Diversity in Oncology Initiative, which is aimed at combatting the lack of workforce diversity in oncology. The program’s goal is to encourage individuals in the early stages of their career and from populations underrepresented in medicine to pursue a career in oncology by promoting mentor-mentee relationships.
“Diversifying the workforce is the first step to eliminating health disparities and improving the overall cancer survival for all Americans,” said Derrick J. Beech, MD, FACS, Workforce Diversity Work Group Chair on ASCO’s Health Disparities Committee. “The ASCO Diversity Mentoring Program is our way of putting this very important initiative at the forefront of addressing and hopefully eliminating disparities in cancer care.”
By connecting physicians-in-training with experienced cancer care providers, the hope is that more prospective oncologists, especially those from underrepresented populations, will choose to pursue the discipline as a career. The program is designed to function remotely or in-person and can serve as a platform for fostering relationships among peers and colleagues as well as sharing information and knowledge.
“Rather than having to figure everything out on your own, what the Diversity Mentoring Program will do is connect a medical student with someone senior in the field who has paved the way—who can show that medical student a potential career path,” said A. Craig Lockhart, MD, Career Development Subcommittee Chair and Liaison to ASCO’s Health Disparities Committee.
With cancer incidence expected to rise in the coming years and the potential for a shortage of oncologists also looming, the program is one way to help tackle one of oncology’s biggest challenges.
It’s a challenge that is particularly acute when it comes to underrepresented populations. Though African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up 31% of the general U.S. population, only an estimated 17% of medical students hail from those populations. A report published by ASCO this year, Key Trends in Tracking Supply and Demand for Oncologists, found that this problem is amplified in oncology. As of 2010, African Americans make up 3.1% of the oncology fellow population, while Hispanic Americans make up just 7.5%, proportions that are lower than internal medicine programs and many of the other internal medicine subspecialty fellowships.
Potential to affect health care disparities
Physicians from underrepresented populations are more likely to practice in underserved communities and often engender trust and comfort in the patients they are treating.
“We know that for underrepresented populations, the person delivering care can help improve treatment if the patient feels that they can connect with their care provider, so this program is a way to address that need,” said Dr. Lockhart.
“We fully understand that this is only part of the solution to eliminate disparities in cancer care and survival. But, it is a very important step—diversifying the workforce and creating a talented pipeline that truly represents the makeup of our country,” added Dr. Beech.
ASCO is now accepting nominations for mentors interested in the Mentoring Program, with the application process for prospective mentees expected to open later this spring. Learn more about the ASCO Diversity Mentoring Program or nominate yourself or a colleague.