The hematology workforce has changed dramatically from 20 years ago when I started my tenure as division chief of hematology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Back then, there was little diversity among our faculty and fellows. I’ve seen welcome progress on that front as the health care world develops a greater appreciation for the tremendous value that a diverse workforce brings to patient care.

A vital and long-standing player in that effort, ASH has always had a commitment to advancing diversity, but it formally began in 2003 with the creation of the Minority Recruitment Initiative (MRI). At that time, ASH President Ronald Hoffman, MD, and the Executive Committee established the Ad Hoc Minority Committee, which launched the initiative. The goals of the MRI were, and continue to be, increased participation of minorities in hematology-related training and an increase in the number of minority hematologists with academic and research appointments. ASH endeavors to establish a longitudinal pathway — from medical school/graduate school to residency to fellowship and ultimately junior faculty — to recruit and retain minority trainees into hematology.

The MRI encompasses multiple programs, a recognition that true progress comes when the seeds for change are planted throughout our landscape:

  1. The Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP) offers an introductory mentored biomedical research experience to medical students.

  2. The Minority Resident Hematology Award Program (MRHAP) provides support for resident physicians in an internal medicine, pathology, or pediatric residency program to conduct research in hematology.

  3. The Minority Graduate Student Abstract Achievement Award (MGSAAA) attracts minority PhD students to the field of hematology through the ASH annual meeting.

  4. The Minority Hematology Graduate Award (MHGA) provides support for doctoral students in their first, second, or third year of graduate school to explore hematology research.

  5. The Minority Hematology Fellow Award (MHFA) encourages junior researchers to pursue careers in academic hematology by providing research funding and mentorship over a two- to three-year period during fellowship training.

  6. The Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (ASH-AMFDP) seeks to increase the number of underrepresented minority scholars from the field of hematology with academic and research appointments.

So, what has the MRI accomplished over two decades?

  • ASH has funded 516 awards for trainees to gain hands-on experience in conducting hematology research and for graduate students and junior researchers to pursue careers in academic hematology.

  • ASH has grown the MRI awards program from one medical student research award program to six that span the hematology education pathway (medical students to post-doctoral fellows).

  • There are several multi-generational mentorship family trees of hematologists thanks to the MRI’s sustained commitment to mentoring.

In total, ASH has committed more than $15 million to the MRI since 2003, and these funds have helped to support many leaders in the field of hematology and within our community. Some notable examples include Christopher Flowers MD, MS, the first recipient of the ASH-AMFDP Award. Dr. Flowers, an ASH Councillor, is the division head ad interim of Cancer Medicine and Chair of Lymphoma and Myeloma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is known internationally for his clinical research pertaining to lymphoma. In 2022, he received the ASH Mentor Award. Seventeen of his mentees from groups underrepresented in medicine are now medical school faculty.

Melody Smith, MD, MS, 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, showcasing the success of the longitudinal pathway concept. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University, where she studies transplantation and cellular therapy to improve outcomes in patients with hematologic malignancies. She is a member of the ASH Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Subcommittee on Immunotherapy.

Alison Walker, MD, MPH, MBA, is another leader supported through the previously referenced ASH-AMFDP. Dr. Walker is a senior member at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, where she leads a research program focusing on drug development for acute leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. She also chairs the ASH Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

My division also has benefited, in part, from ASH’s diversity initiatives. More than 70% of the Johns Hopkins hematology faculty are women, more than 50% of our hematology fellows are women, and more than 25% of the fellows trained on our hematology training grant are from underrepresented backgrounds.

In summary, the MRI is making a positive difference. At this 20-year anniversary, let’s acknowledge and celebrate that progress even as we aim ever higher. In the coming decade, we will strive to infuse a new generation of talent into different facets of ASH so that all perspectives and experiences contribute to the advancement and diversification of the hematology workforce. When the faces of that 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.