ASH has demonstrated its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in numerous ways — efforts to improve care for diseases that disproportionally affect minority patients, government advocacy efforts, programs to diversify the hematology workforce, and more. These endeavors will be front and center this year at the 2021 ASH Annual Meeting, where there will be a broad range of activities and resources available to help attendees learn, connect, and get involved.
New this year is the Anti-Racism Studio, which will be located in ASH Central. The goal of the Anti-Racism Studio is to help attendees better recognize what constitutes racism, as it is not always explicit, and understand the multitude of effects racism can have on patient care, clinical outcomes, and research. There will be 15-minute expert talks on topics such as structural racism, “Transforming Policy Into Action,” and allyship; these talks will be followed by a facilitated discussion. High-profile speakers such as Dr. Althea Maybank, Chief Health Equity Officer for the American Medical Association (AMA) will present talks aimed at teaching skills that can empower you to make changes to address racism and inequality at your institution.
The Anti-Racism Studio is a complement to the other initiatives taking place at the Annual Meeting, and beyond. This year’s program will also kick off ASH’s new Health Equity Rounds (Sunday, December 12, 11:30 a.m. Eastern time [ET]). Dr. Lachelle Weeks of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and co-chair of the ASH Anti-Racism Task Force, says the goal of this program is to discuss “social justice and health equity issues through the lens of patient cases.” The case presented at the Annual Meeting will center on how bias and discrimination can affect outcomes in sickle cell disease. Future cases will be presented in webinar format throughout the coming year and will focus on topics such as access to cellular therapy and disparities in pregnancy care, thrombosis, and maternal mortality.
Making a much-anticipated return this year is the Special Scientific Session on Race and Science, co-chaired by Dr. Weeks and Dr. Wally Smith of Virginia Commonwealth University (Saturday, December 11, 4:00 p.m. ET). This session is meant to address the implications of racial bias on scientific innovation. The goal is for attendees to understand “what race is and is not a variable, specifically identifying the ways that race is a social construct more than a biologic or genetic identifier, and the implications that this truth has for clinical practice as well as the research that we do,” stated Dr. Weeks.
This year’s Special Symposium on Quality, “Identifying And Eliminating Inequity in the Provision of Healthcare” (Saturday, December 11, 2:00 p.m. ET), will continue the supposition that our biases can affect care delivery and quality. Attendees will learn about systemic biases embedded within lab results and interpretation, and hear examples of proven mechanisms for changing practice. The session will end with a keynote address from Dr. Kara Odom Walker from the National Office of Policy and Prevention who will call our attention to social and moral determinants of health.
The Committee on Government Relations and Practice has created two opportunities for attendees to learn over lunch, and maybe even get involved in advocacy efforts. The ASH Practice Partnership Lunch Program will discuss how COVID has highlighted health disparities and has also given us opportunities to change delivery of care (i.e., effective utilization of telemedicine) and to improve techniques for medical education. This year’s ASH Grassroots Network Lunch highlights ASH’s advocacy efforts at the congressional level. We have the honor of being joined by keynote speaker Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another lunchtime opportunity is the DEI Networking and Community Building Lunch (in-person only). This is intended to be an informal space for attendees from a range of backgrounds to connect and create an enhanced sense of community amongst our richly diverse ASH network.
In addition to everything detailed here, there is a satellite symposium on Friday, December 10, focused on disparities in bone marrow transplantation, as well as numerous excellent abstracts throughout the meeting focusing on disparities in care, clinical trials, and even the ability to be a stem cell donor (abstract #3017). As we plan our annual meeting experience and schedule, I invite us all to consider this from Dr. Weeks: “It is upon all of our shoulders to educate ourselves and then do all that we can to eliminate structural barriers to equitable care, including segregation and lack of diversity of providers, economic issues that limit access to medical care, and cultural or individual factors that are not permissive of fostering inclusive environments for all of us regardless of our backgrounds and how we identify. This is essential work if the goal is to model excellence in clinical hematology and research and to improve the health of all of our patients.”
Dr. Brem indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.