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ASH Minority Recruitment Initiative Celebrates 20 Years of Achievement

December 9, 2023

When the faces of our workforce truly reflect the rich tapestry of the communities we serve, we contribute to a more inclusive and welcoming society, we foster greater advances in science, and we elevate the care that we deliver to our patients.” —Robert A. Brodsky, MD, ASH president 

Twenty years ago, the American Society of Hematology launched its Minority Recruitment Initiative (MRI), a multifaceted effort to attract more medical students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to hematology 

and increase the number of academic and research appointments offered to hematologists from such backgrounds. Since its inception in 2003, ASH has grown the MRI awards program from one medical student research award program to six and has committed more than $15 million to awards for trainees, graduate students, and junior researchers to pursue careers in academic hematology.  

Thanks to this sustained commitment, the MRI now boasts several multi-generational mentorship family trees of hematologists. A notable example is the pathway initiated by Christopher Flowers, MD, MS, the first recipient of the ASH-Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (AMFDP) Award. Dr. Flowers, who also received the ASH Mentor Award in 2022, is the division head ad interim of Cancer Medicine and Chair of Lymphoma and Myeloma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Seventeen of his mentees from groups underrepresented in medicine are now medical school faculty. Among these outstanding physician-scientists is Melody Smith, MD, MS, who won the ASH Minority Medical Student Award in 2005 and 2006, an ASH-EHA Translational Research Training Award in 2015, and an ASH-AMFDP Award in 2017.  

In an interview with ASH earlier this year, Dr. Smith emphasized the value of her experience in the mentorship program: “The availability of Dr. Flowers to help me address various questions over the years was key for me as I made important decisions in my education and training. In my family, there was no one who was already a physician or scientist. So, Dr. Flowers, having already gone along that journey, was able to give me insight that I otherwise would not have had or might have been a little bit more difficult for me to gain.”  </p

  • Dr. Flowers, who began his work with the MRI even before the program’s formal name had been adopted, reiterated the importance of mentorship for minority communities: “If you can see someone who looks like you, who is pursuing exactly what you want to do, then that makes it possible.” 

At this year’s annual meeting, attendees will have an opportunity to engage with current and previous participants in the MRI program at multiple levels and across all stages of their careers in hematology.  

  • Titilope Fasipe, MD, PhD, who received an ASH Minority Medical Student Award in 2021, will discuss how community partnerships can help to alleviate some of the disparities caused by social determinants of health as part of the Health Equity Studio. (Community Partnerships: An Essential Component to Advance Health Equity, Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, 4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Convention Center, Sails Pavilion).
  • Maureen Okam Achebe, MD, MPH, who leads ASH’s involvement in the “Racial Equity in Clinical Equations” initiative of the Doris Duke Foundation along with Lauren Merz, MD, MSc, will chair a session highlighting the issues that arise from misinterpretation of the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) in individuals with the Duffy-null phenotype. As approximately two in three people in the U.S. with African or Middle Eastern ancestry have the Duffy-null phenotype, the discussion will also highlight potential changes to avoid pathologizing healthy individuals. (What is a “Normal” Neutrophil Count? The Duffy Red Cell Antigen, Ancestry, Genetics, and Evolution, Monday, 2:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Convention Cener, Hall A). 
  • The Promoting Minorities in Hematology Oral Presentations (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, Marina Ballrooms D, E, F) will showcase training and research opportunities geared toward increasing the diversity scholars in the field of hematology. The session will feature scientific presentations from MRI award recipients and will be followed by a special reception celebrating the 20th anniversary of the program. 

To learn more about the 20-year history of achievement in the MRI and other DEI initiatives at ASH, all meeting participants are also invited to attend the Wake Up to DEI Networking Breakfast (Monday, 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m., Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, Marina Ballroom), a community-building and networking event for members of communities that fall within the DEI umbrella. The event, which will include remarks from a member of the ASH Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, aims to create a sense of belonging and allyship and, where possible, identify opportunities to learn more about the experiences and needs of these communities to allow ASH to have a greater impact in its DEI efforts.  

Through the programs of the MRI and other DEI initiatives, ASH continues to demonstrate its long-standing commitment to embracing and elevating diverse voices across the patient and health care communities. Dr. Flowers hailed ASH’s efforts on that front as “extraordinarily successful” even as the Society looks to make further advances over the next 20 years — and beyond.  

 

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