DEI Training Gives Oncology Fellows More Confidence

Oncology fellows who completed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training report that they feel more confident about responding to different types of discrimination, both when directed at them personally and when directed at others.

The finding comes from a survey conducted after the introduction of DEI training within the Yale Medical Oncology-Hematology Fellowship Program. The study was reported by Norin Ansari, MD, MPH, from the Yale Cancer Center, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2023 annual meeting on June 4.

Ansari emphasized the DEI curriculum in fellowship programs by highlighting the racial and gender disparities that exist among physicians.

“There is a significant representation problem ― only 2% to 3% of practicing oncologists are Black or Hispanic/Latino,” she said. “And that representation decreases with each stage in the pipeline of the workforce.”

Ansari also noted gender disparities in the oncologist workforce, noting that about one third of faculty positions are held by women.

The anonymous survey was sent to 29 fellows; 23 responded, including eight first-year fellows and 13 senior fellows. Over 57% of respondents rated the importance of DEI education as 10 on a 10-point scale (mean, 8.6).

At the start of this year, the responses of senior fellows who had already received some DEI training during the previous year’s lecture series were compared to first-year fellows who had not had any fellowship DEI education.

First-year fellows reported a mean confidence score of 2.5/5 at navigating bias and microaggressions when experienced personally and a mean score of 2.9/5 when they were directed at others. Senior fellows reported mean confidence scores of 3 and 3.2, respectively.

Yale then compared longitudinal data on fellows’ comfort levels in navigating discrimination in 2021, 2022, and 2023 a month before the ASCO meeting.

Fellows were asked to rate their comfort level from 1 to 10 in navigating different types of discrimination, including racial inequality, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination. In these three categories, fellows rated comfortability as a 5 in 2021 and as 7 in 2023 after the DEI training.

“Our first goal is to normalize talking about DEI and to recognize that different people in our workforce have different experiences and how we can be allies for them and for our patients,” Ansari said. “And I think for long-term goals we want to take stock of who’s at the table, who’s making decisions, and how does that affect our field, our science, and our patients.”

Yale designed the 3-year longitudinal curriculum with two annual core topics: upstander training and journal club for discussion and reflection. An additional two to three training sessions per year will focus on either race, gender, LGBTQ+, disability, religion, or implicit bias training.

The most popular topics among fellows were upstander training, cancer treatment and outcomes disparities, recruitment and retention, and career promotion and pay disparities.

The preferred platforms of content delivery were lectures from experts in the field, affinity groups or mentorship links, small group discussions, and advocacy education.

Gerald Hsu, MD, PhD, with the San Francisco VA Medical Center, discussed the results of Yale’s DEI curriculum assessment, saying it represented “best practices” in the industry. However, he acknowledged that realistically, not everyone will be receptive to DEI training.

Hsu believes that holding medical staff accountable is the only way to truly incorporate DEI into everyday practice.

“Collectively, we need to be holding ourselves to different standards or holding ourselves to some standard,” Hsu said. “Maybe we need to be setting goals to the degree to which we diversify our training programs and our faculty, and there needs to be consequences to not doing so.”

No funding for the study was reported.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2023: Abstract 11002. Presented June 4, 2023.

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