Making Strides Toward a More Diverse Oncology Workforce

Mar 10, 2019

ASCO makes progress to expand mentoring and educational opportunities

By Rachel Martin, ASCO Communications

In early 2017, ASCO embarked on a new effort to improve the diversity of the U.S. oncology workforce. Built on the premise that an oncology workforce reflective of the population it serves will improve cancer care quality and access, ASCO’s “Strategic Plan for Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Oncology” identified new programs and expansion opportunities to address three short-term goals:

  • Establish a longitudinal pathway for increasing workforce diversity.
  • Enhance ASCO leadership diversity.
  • Integrate a diversity focus across ASCO programs and policies.

Launched as a 3-year plan, but expected to continue beyond that time frame, the plan’s wide-ranging components are well underway and already bearing fruit.

Attracting and supporting oncologists from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine

ASCO is expanding its activities to address demographic gaps in the oncology workforce by boosting interest in oncology careers; providing meaningful career opportunities for medical students, residents, and fellows from those underrepresented in medicine (URM) backgrounds; and offering support as URMs enter the field.

In 2017, ASCO’s Diversity Mentoring Program matched 22 mentoring pairs, and it is now growing its pool of mentors available to serve as a professional resource for medical students and residents. Within the next few months, mentees participating in the Diversity Mentoring Program will have access to a new exclusive online community where they can discuss career challenges, networking opportunities, and lessons learned. In 2020, ASCO will also offer one-on-one mentoring opportunities to URM fellows at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

ASCO has also expanded on its efforts to engage with organizations and institutions that work most closely with URM medical students. In 2018, ASCO exhibited at the Annual Medical Education Conference of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), an organization committed to supporting current and future underrepresented minority medical students, to increase attendees’ exposure to ASCO, its programs, and the oncology field in general. Additional engagement efforts with the medical education community are expected to continue throughout 2019 and 2020.

Integrating diversity across ASCO’s educational programs

Guided by her presidential theme, “Caring for Every Patient, Learning from Every Patient,” 2018-2019 ASCO president Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, charged the Annual Meeting Education Committee with broadening the diversity of backgrounds among the Annual Meeting faculty and addressing diversity in the content of the meeting. Multiple sessions during the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting will look at issues of disparities in care across tumor types, as well as strategies to overcoming barriers to clinical trial enrollment—a key element of expanding the evidence base to be more representative of a diverse patient population. Sessions will also address workplace issues, with a workshop on “Enhancing Cultural Literacy in Oncology: Strategies For Delivery of High-Quality Cancer Care” and a roundtable discussion with personal stories and perspectives titled “Establishing a Mutually Respectful Environment in the Workplace.”

Another program improvement inspired by the strategic plan is the development of a new ASCO University e-learning course that will provide a fresh perspective on cultural competence and health inequity, as well as introduce the more in-depth concept of cultural literacy. The course will be available to members in December 2019. ASCO is also developing a new self-evaluation app that will send a few questions about health disparities to participants on their mobile phone every other day, making it easy for oncologists to assess their knowledge of health inequities.

You can help advocate for a diverse workforce

Members of the oncology community can support the implementation of the strategic plan and foster a diverse, representative oncology workforce. Here’s how you can help:

  • Promote career opportunities for oncologists and trainees who are from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.
  • Volunteer to be a mentor and share mentoring opportunities with colleagues.
  • Share ASCO leadership opportunities with colleagues and recommend colleagues for leadership positions.
  • Submit session proposals, abstracts, or journal articles that include a focus on health equity, disparities, and diversity.
  • Assess how your own institution engages with diverse populations.
  • Sign up as a content reviewer or question writer to support ASCO’s educational content focused on diversity in oncology.

For more information, visit or email

Thoughts from the ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

A multi-committee task force is working to ensure adoption and implementation of the strategic plan throughout ASCO. The task force is made up of members from ASCO’s Health Equity Committee, Professional Development Committee, Membership Advisory Committee, Workforce Advisory Group, State Affiliate Council, Board of Directors, and ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants Selection Committee. Task force members shared their thoughts on workforce diversity and ASCO’s ongoing role in this area.

“Diversity brings great value to the practice of medicine. Human interactions are an essential component of our profession. As a result, our patients are best served by an environment that is enriched by diversity of cultures, ideas, experiences, and knowledge. We need every ASCO member to embrace the value of diversity so that we can support members of our community who have so far lagged behind in numbers as well as professional accomplishment.”

—Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO
2018–2019 ASCO President, Board Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“We need to be out in our communities talking about the work that we do—especially for those who may be located near minority-serving institutions or some of the historically black colleges and universities—to encourage individuals to consider a career in oncology.”

—Karen M. Winkfield, MD, PhD
Chair, ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“The United States is made up of people from cultures from all over the world. A more diverse oncology workforce will be able to address and understand the variations and cultural needs of patients and families suffering from cancer at their most vulnerable time.”

—Shobha Chitneni, MD
State Affiliate Council Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“Oncology is losing diverse talent to other specialties. Simply increasing the pipeline of available URM students is not enough. We need to engage and attract current URM students to our field in order to ensure that the oncology workforce is reflective of the diverse patient population that it serves.”

—Curt Deville, MD
Health Equity Committee Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“One of the most important ways that an ASCO member can get involved is by volunteering to serve as an ASCO mentor, sharing ASCO mentoring opportunities with colleagues, or promoting networking or other career opportunities for oncologists and trainees who are underrepresented in medicine (URM).”

—Filipa Lynce, MD
Workforce Advisory Group Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“ASCO was already ahead of the curve with ongoing programs such as the Medical Student Rotation, the Resident Travel Award, and the Diversity Mentoring Program. These programs can serve as the launching pad to create the next generation of ASCO leaders.”

—Rodney Rocconi, MD
ASCO Health Equity Committee Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“I hope to see more medical students and fellows from underrepresented in medicine populations applying for and obtaining grants from the Conquer Cancer Foundation. Additionally, I hope that many of the trainees who have participated in our programs become mentors.”

—Enrique Soto Pérez de Celis, MD, MSc
Professional Development Committee Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

“We must impress upon young individuals the wonderful opportunity that a commitment to oncology provides. I anticipate that by 2020 we should see new enthusiasm surrounding cancer care. Seeing is believing. There is nothing more convincing to curious young observers than seeing words in action. Diversity must be seen at all levels of the organization.”

—Sharon Spencer, MD
Membership Advisory Committee Liaison to ASCO Workforce Diversity Task Force

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