By Stephanie Graff, MD
In mid-September, I was invited to attend the Women in Oncology Strategic Planning Retreat at ASCO Headquarters. The advisory group included two ASCO Past Presidents, Dr. Sandra Swain, MD, FACP, FASCO and Dr. Julie Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO as well as ASCO President-Elect, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, MD, FASCO. Other physician women present represented diverse clinical practice (bone marrow transplant to breast oncology), community practice and academic medicine, international membership, broad ages, and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Rounding out the group were women representing the Food and Drug Administration as well as industry representatives from Genentech and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Twelve states and two countries were represented in the advisory group. Last, but not least, were five female ASCO staffers, praised across for their commitment and dedication to the vision of the organization.
The group came together to brainstorm strategies to strengthen the role of women within ASCO, but more importantly, within the oncology workforce. Led by Laura Castillo-Page, PhD, who serves as the Senior Director for Diversity Policy and Programs in the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the group brainstormed strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for women in oncology.
The day started by reviewing some sobering statistics evaluating the hard truth for women in medicine. Statistic after statistic bears out that women start medical school in nearly equal numbers as their male counterparts, but as opportunities for advancement and leadership present themselves, women fall away. For example, 46% of residents are women, but only 16% of deans are women.1 (I took the privilege of doing the reverse math—54% of residents are men and 84% of deans are men.) We then reviewed data from traditional business markets that show that women in leadership strengthen the organization as a whole—with data showing gender diversity decreases staff turnover and increases innovation.
After multiple small group brainstorming sessions, the group ended by presenting a comprehensive strategic plan for women in oncology to thrive in 2018 and beyond. Ideas circulated included strategies to ensure equal representation whether in the boardroom or on the podium, and a comprehensive mentorship program to benefit all members. Many of the presented ideas can seamlessly blend into the current strategic vision ASCO has already established. We also identified holes in the available data surrounding women engaged in our workforce and women who leave the workforce.
I left the meeting energized, on the very “conference high” I am sure many of you have felt after attending an ASCO meeting. At different points in the retreat I felt indebted to the women who came before me and paved the way for my comparatively easy path; immensely proud of all the work that women are contributing to the field of oncology; renewed by the ideas we all have to make a world of difference in cancer care; thankful for the endless work that ASCO volunteers contribute to make our organization successful and impactful; and bolstered by new friendships.
I know that not every woman in oncology, or even every “he for she” in oncology, had the opportunity to attend. But I hope that you will still contribute. We are stronger together. Comment below with your ideas on ways to foster an organization that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness for our patients and our care teams, first and always.
(From left to right: Shelby Terstriep, MD, ASCO President-Elect Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FASCO, and Sara Horton, MD, at the Women in Oncology Strategic Planning Retreat)
Dr. Graff is the director of the Breast Program at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest and associate director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.
- Association of American Medical Colleges. The state of women in academic medicine. members.aamc.org/eweb/upload/The%20State%20of%20Women%20in%20Academic%20Medicine%202013-2014%20FINAL.pdf. Accessed September 21, 2017.