By Sapana Panday, MPH
The United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Health disparities continue with little improvement, despite national policies and standards.1 The need to provide culturally competent care has also been highlighted through national policies,2,3 and 14 states now require proficiency in cultural competence as part of their licensure requirements for physicians.4
The number of female physicians also continues to rise. In 2017, the number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools exceeded the number of men for the first time, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Although women make up one-third of all physicians, they are consistently underrepresented in leadership roles and as speakers at medical conferences.
Similarly, even though over 43% of practicing physicians identify as non-White (per AAMC data), all White speaker panels are common at medical conferences. This under-representation in speaking roles has led to the social media backlash of #manels (all-male panels), #wanels (all-white panels) and #manferences (all-male conferences). Attendees are tweeting under these hashtags and calling out conferences for their lack of diversity.
Some associations have taken proactive steps to avoid these situations with no all-male panel policies, such as Lancet and ATS. These policies often require conference organizers to ensure diversity within their speakers, including inclusion of women, People of Color (POC) and diverse years of experience.
If you are having challenges recruiting a diverse group of speakers, here are some suggestions:
- Ask your current faculty network to specifically recommend women and POC speakers: You will find that most expert faculty are already aware of this issue and often are thinking about diversifying the speaker pool. Their work that has made them experts in the field require them to work with a large number of other clinicians and researchers. They also have fellows and trainees who are involved in cutting edge research and medicine. This makes them ideal for being able to identify speakers who may not be in the spotlight yet but would make for great faculty.
- Establish faculty/speaker selection standards: Similar to what ATS and Lancet have done, write out a speaker diversity policy. Ensure that your speaker pool, at a minimum, reflects your membership/audience demographics. If your membership/audience is disproportionally skewed to White and/or male, encourage representation of under-represented groups. The younger generation of medical professionals are frequently more diverse and will look for representation in the conferences they attend. Ask that a panel include at least one non-cis gender male, one POC and one early career speaker.
- Don’t be limited by titles: Women and POC are often under-represented in academic medicine and leadership roles. Consider speakers beyond the traditional mold that defines an expert. For example, don’t limit your search to physicians, but also consider nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other aligned health professionals. Field experience can be just as valuable as research credentials. Experts aren’t only found in prestigious academic medical centers, they can also be at community health centers. Remember, expertise in the subject matter doesn’t necessarily translate to great teachers. The best facilitators of a course maybe not be the world renown physician but a physician educator who believes in creating a productive learning experience for learners.
- Ask for recommendations from groups that prioritize diversity: Many societies often have special interest groups like women in *insert specialty* such as Women in Critical Care and Women Physicians Section. Some societies have specifically been set up to prioritize minority professionals such as the National Medical Association, Association of Black Cardiologists and Women in Endocrinology. These groups can be resources that can help identify diverse speakers in specific specialties.
- Look beyond the same pool of women and POC faculty: Often, a handful of prominent women and POC speakers will get invited to conferences repeatedly, sometimes to fill a diversity quota. This leads them to decline many such invitations. When recruiting a diverse group of panelists, look for fresh speakers that may be new to the speaking arena. Consider combining seasoned speakers with newer and less known experts.
- Rollins LK, Bradley EB, Hayden GF, et. al. Responding to a Changing Nation: Are Faculty Prepared for Cross-Cultural Conversations and Care? Fam Med, NOV-DEC 2013;45(10):728-731
- LCME Accreditation Standards. www.lcme.org/ standard.htm. Accessed December 7, 2020 .
- US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. http:// minority.health.hhs.gov/templates/browse. aspx?lvl=2&lvlID=15. Accessed December 7, 2020.
- Studying state legislation of cultural and linguistic competence (October 21, 2009). www.rwjf.org/pr/product.jsp?id=49249. Accessed December 7, 2020.