ASH has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to promoting diversity among the broader community of clinicians and investigators involved in the field of hematology. In 2003, ASH established the Committee on Promoting Diversity (CPD) and launched committee efforts including the ASH Minority Recruitment Initiative (MRI). Indeed, ASH’s commitment to efforts to address issues in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) extend beyond the activities of the CPD. Given recent events in the United States, ASH leaders re-examined the Society’s role in addressing injustices that affect ASH members and the populations of patients who are affected by hematologic diseases. In June 2020, ASH President Dr. Stephanie Lee described the Society’s clear commitment to ongoing efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion in a message to ASH members. The ASH statement of DEI (See box) engages the Society’s broad, international membership to draw from our diverse strengths and perspectives to address disparities that affect our patients with hematologic diseases.
As exciting discoveries are made, clinical and translational investigators are key drivers in the rapid translation of basic research findings to new drug approvals.1 However, the number of early-career scientists currently engaged in hematology research is insufficient to meet future demand. A lack of opportunities to receive formal training and early-career mentorship contribute to this deficiency.2,3 The shortage of clinical and translational research trainees is expected to produce significant lags between scientific discoveries and future clinical implementation of cancer research,4 which can result in significant lost opportunities in lives saved, symptoms ameliorated, and health care cost-savings. Moreover, to effectively translate these discoveries to diverse populations, diverse groups of investigators are needed. To address the three components of the statement of DEI, ASH has engaged members to recruit and retain diverse voices in volunteer leadership and visibility opportunities and to support diverse award cohorts through mentorship, outreach, informed study section processes, and preferential scoring.
The ASH MRI is one example of a successful ASH effort to increase diversity in the Society and throughout the field of hematology. Since 2003, ASH has disbursed more than $12 million across 360 awards to support underrepresented minority trainees engaging in research opportunities in hematology. ASH began the MRI with the Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP), which offers introductory and continued mentored biomedical research experience to minority medical students, and the Minority Graduate Student Abstract Achievement Award (MGSAAA). Efforts were eventually extended to include support through the Minority Resident Hematology Award Program (MRHAP), Minority Hematology Fellow Award (MHFA), Minority Hematology Graduate Award (MHGA), and the ASH–Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (ASH-AMFDP).
The Figure displays the connections between components of the ASH MRI. Together these programs provide a continuum of training opportunities that have been demonstrated to support and enhance the pipeline of minority physicians and investigators in hematology and in medicine more broadly. Dr. Melody Smith, a translational researcher and faculty member at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who focuses on cellular therapy approaches for hematologic cancers, is a shining example of the impact of the ASH MRI pipeline. Dr. Smith began her research career through the MMSAP in 2006, continued training through the ASH/European Haematology Association Translational Research Training in Hematology (TRTH) program, and currently receives support for her research and career development through the ASH AMFDP award (2018-present).
The American Society of Hematology (ASH) is committed to building and nurturing a global hematology community and workforce inclusive of diverse perspectives, talents, and experiences as it works toward one collective goal: helping hematologists conquer blood diseases worldwide.
The three-pronged approach to fulfilling the Society’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is:
Inspiring, recruiting, and supporting researchers and clinicians from diverse backgrounds to pursue and succeed in careers in hematology and related fields.
Involving people with diverse perspectives, talents, and experiences in leadership, volunteer, and staff positions.
Advocating for policies and supporting programs that aim to eliminate health disparities in the care of hematology patients.
The ASH CPD oversees all aspects of the MMSAP, MGSAAA, MRHAP, MHGA, and MHFA, including the selection of applicants for participation, mentor identification, and program evaluation; they also coordinate the ASH-AMFDP — a partnership between ASH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. All MRI programs are built upon establishing a structured mentorship relationship. Having an experienced professional as a mentor can inspire trainees to pursue careers in hematology, encourage the mentee to seek out leadership roles, and is associated with greater career satisfaction.5 Studies show that fostering such relationships is also beneficial to the mentors, influencing academic productivity and career advancement.6,7 The ASH CPD also constructed the MRI Programs Subcommittee to support matching prospective applicants with potential mentors and supports the ASH Ambassador Program at 23 institutions. The Ambassador program promotes ASH’s career development and training programs to facilitate recruitment and retention of under-represented minority trainees to hematology and engage them in other opportunities available through ASH. The CPD also provides feedback in the development of ASH programs and educational opportunities to promote DEI at the annual meeting, and sponsors the MRI Career Development Luncheon and the Promoting Minorities in Hematology event held during the ASH annual meeting to provide minority hematologists and trainees with networking opportunities.
In 2017, the ASH Awards Committee and the Committee on Promoting Diversity created an Honorific Award to honor hematologists who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to diversity and inclusion. The ASH Award for Leadership in Promoting Diversity acknowledges individuals who have provided significant leadership and mentorship in the career development of trainees from under-represented groups and whose efforts have led to a more diverse and inclusive hematology workforce. Prominent ASH Members who have received the ASH Award for Leadership in Promoting Diversity include Drs. Edward J. Benz, Jr. (2020), Griffin Rodgers (2019), Cage Johnson and José López (2018), and Betty Pace (2017). However, nominees do not have to be ASH members.
ASH continues to embrace the values of diversity and inclusion by developing new initiatives. For example, the 2020 ASH Annual Meeting included content focused on the impact of bias and racism on science, health care careers, and patient outcomes. In support of this organizational priority, ASH recently completed group listening sessions hosted by the CPD to understand broader issues of diversity and inclusion relevant to ASH members from a multitude of racial/ethnic, gender, ability, and LGBTQ+ communities. These sessions create a safe space for ASH members to share their personal and collective perspectives and experiences and will enable the Society to expand the reach and impact of its DEI activities.
ASH efforts have also focused on eliminating health disparities for patients with hematologic diseases. The ASH Sickle Cell Disease Initiative seeks to transform outcomes for individuals globally. The ASH Research Collaborative supports metrics, measurement, and research focused on diversity and equity. We anticipate that these ASH programs will have significant impact on the improvement of outcomes in the diverse patient populations we serve.
Although we are exceptionally proud of ASH’s efforts so far, we must and will do more. Future activities will build on these prior successes. Ongoing ASH activities include developing a DEI toolkit for hematology training and education; continuing to recruit, engage, and expand opportunities for trainees in the ASH MRI pipeline; reinforcing efforts to overcome disparities in outcomes for underserved populations; and extending opportunities for under-represented minority hematologists in ASH leadership roles across the Society. We look forward to engaging a broad range of ASH members in these activities for the advancement of our Society and for improving outcomes for the patients we serve.
Dr. Flowers and Dr. Donald indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.