SIR’s focus on diversity and inclusion: “There needs to be representation at all levels”

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diversityIn response to the global outcry following the murder of an unarmed black American, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis in late May of this year, and as a contribution to the continuing conversation on racism in the USA and globally, the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) released a statement of commitment in support of diversity within medicine. It promised to “commit to anti-racist efforts, policies, and programmes that aim to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities and women within our specialty”. Interventional News spoke with Paul J Rochon, chair of the SIR Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and a vascular and interventional radiologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, USA, about the society’s continued anti-racist activities and intentions.

How is the SIR supporting diversity and combating racial inequality in the USA?

As we outlined in our statement, SIR has a number of activities underway to combat racial inequality. In addition to establishing the Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) advisory group and the Women in IR (WIR) section—both of which bring a powerful diverse voice to SIR’s leadership—the society and SIR Foundation offer a variety of grant programmes for medical students from diverse backgrounds to participate in clerkships that fund research by women and underrepresented minorities, and that fund the establishment and validation of programmes that aim to diversify the workforce. We also established a Speakers Bureau to ensure meeting planners have access to IR experts from underrepresented groups.

What strategies have been identified as essential to recalibrate any systemic imbalances within medicine and IR?

The formation of active diversity, equity, and inclusion committees and boards in institutions, both academic and private, is the first strategy. All specialties should have these incorporated. As this happens, specialties should come together in their efforts and strategies to recalibrate these systemic imbalances.

Workplace diversity (particularly of gender and race) is distinctly underrepresented in IR. Why do you think this is, and what actions is SIR taking to engage with this issue?

One of the biggest challenges facing IR is awareness of the specialty. For years, it was a subspecialty of radiology, and did not have that much exposure outside of radiology rotations. IR’s status as a primary specialty in the USA and its associated residency programmes are fairly new, but it is raising the profile of IR, which will hopefully help us recruit more people of diverse backgrounds into the specialty. The MATCH results are encouraging in that we remain among the most competitive specialties. We have routinely filled more than 98% of slots each year.

To help with recruitment among medical students, SIR’s D&I advisory group’s recruitment committee, in collaboration with SIR’s Residents, Fellows, and Students (RFS), WIR, and Association of Program Directors in Interventional Radiology (APDIR) sections, have been working to plan strategies related to ensuring that female and underrepresented minority medical students and undergraduates are aware of IR as a specialty option.

Through SIR Foundation, and a generous endowment from Alan Matsumoto and his family, we have issued grants to help people from underrepresented backgrounds participate in IR clerkships. The funding is critical to ensuring that those in various underrepresented groups are able to access the networking opportunities clerkships provide and be exposed to IR as a career path.

It will be some years before we train enough new interventional radiologists to build a truly diverse workforce, but in the meantime, we are working hard to raise the voices of those underrepresented in our workforce.

SIR has been collecting member demographic information for over five years; these data include gender and ethnicity, and cover all career stages, from medical student through to attending. The D&I advisory group has been reviewing this data as it relates to overall SIR membership, committee engagement, and speakers at its educational meetings, and is working to ensure that these posts and opportunities are accessible to people of diverse backgrounds.

Additionally, it is part of SIR’s strategic plan to conduct a study on the IR workforce, which will entail an overall look of the workforce trends and include insight on practice types, gender, and underrepresented minorities. This will further help us to tailor programmes to ensure we are effectively including all voices and views in all SIR activities. All in all, it all stems from intentionality. Workplaces need to not check boxes; strategic plans should be in place to recruit diversity in gender and race and ensure inclusion.

Could you elaborate on the role of the Women in IR committee and the Diversity & Inclusion committee within SIR?

Together, the WIR section and D&I advisory group promote diversity of gender, race, and ethnicity within SIR. The two groups collaborate to increase the participation and visibility of women and underrepresented minorities (URM) in SIR, as well as fostering the growth and awareness of women and URM in IR. It is expected that these initiatives will enhance our specialty and strengthen our society.

How do you describe to others why a Diversity and Inclusiveness advisory group is needed?

The success of our mission as a society draws strength not just from the clinical expertise of our physicians, but from the diversity of their backgrounds and experiences as human beings in the world. An innovative, competitive IR workforce requires more than market competencies—it must also carry the power of innate, authentic human connection. As a specialised group of medical practitioners, the diversity of our members and the patients they treat every day is of utmost importance to the overall health of our specialty. SIR’s commitment to these principles must be active and consistent. Having a dedicated D&I advisory group comprised of members and committees that are working across the society helps to ensure that diversity and inclusiveness is an active, living part of SIR’s culture and its work.

SIR has a limited number of grants for women and physicians who are underrepresented in medicine. What has the impact of these schemes been to date?

SIR and SIR Foundation have launched several programmes to encourage students of diverse backgrounds to enter into IR as their specialty. One of the key programmes, which I alluded to  above, is the Grants for Education of Medical Students (GEMS), which was launched in 2019 thanks to the support of Alan Matsumoto and his family, as well as corporate partners. This scholarship programme allows up to 10 applicants from a variety of disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in an away clerkship rotation in IR.

Since its establishment in mid-2019, the GEMS programme has awarded seven medical students with US$10,500 in funding to participate in clerkships, and another US$7,000 in funding for travel to the SIR annual meeting, where they will be able to network with interventional radiologists and learn about the specialty. By the end of this year, we hope to increase that funding to US$16,500 and US$11,000, respectively. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the GEMS programme will be going virtual for a six-week course with a heavy health equity and diversity component. Each scholarship and travel stipend will still be paid out to the students for this year. In addition, the GEMS programme will also be issuing IR textbooks to the recipients and GEMS instructors from its endowment.

By the end of this year, the 2020 GEMS recipients will submit a Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology (JVIR) white paper outlining their vision for IR’s role in achieving healthcare and education justice moving forward as part of a group project during their GEMS curriculum.

In addition to this programme, SIR has an SIR Speakers Bureau, which aims to increase the visibility of URM and women nationally. The Speakers Bureau list is used to identify potential speakers for national and regional meetings, as well as invited guest speakers. Grants are available through the diversity and inclusion grant programme to defray the travel costs associated with speaking engagements.

How can SIR members help promote diversity and inclusivity in their own institutions?

Development of and/or involvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion committees in their own institutions is how SIR members can help promote diversity and inclusivity. The old saying of “it starts at home” cannot be truer for this endeavour.

In your opinion, how should a national society balance supporting the grassroots activism of its members with a top-down approach of implementing specific schemes and recommendations?

A national society should balance grassroots activism with a top-down approach by bridging the gap between both. While the grassroots efforts may be involved in producing resources to educate members and increase awareness, leadership of a national society should embrace, advocate, and support, in addition to incorporating them into all aspects of the society, leadership and executive committees not excluded. There needs to be representation at all levels. Pipeline programmes for underrepresented minorities and women should be established to get more representation in leadership and executive committees.


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