Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are the focus of a new ACR/ARP subcommittee of the Collaborative Initiatives (COIN) Special Committee. The 13-member group will explore strategies to increase diversity in the rheumatology workforce pipeline and reduce implicit bias in such organizational processes as speaker recruitment and abstract review.
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“There is a new awareness at the ACR of how much we need to work on these issues, both collectively as rheumatologists and in all of medicine,” says subcommittee co-chair Irene Blanco, MD, MS, professor of medicine and associate dean of the Office of Diversity Enhancement, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Bronx, N.Y. “This effort is a long game and will take persistence. There’s been a positive response from the ACR membership. People are excited about our next steps.”
Survey Highlights Urgency
In summer 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and widespread protests for racial justice, the ACR formed a DEI task force to survey its membership and develop recommendations for the College. At its February 2021 meeting, the Board of Directors adopted the DEI task force’s recommendations, including the recommendation to turn the group into a subcommittee.
“Instead of dissolving the task force after it made recommendations, the ACR leadership said, ‘No, these are systemic problems with deep roots.’ I applaud the ACR’s leaders for making this a subcommittee,” says co-chair Ashira Blazer, MD, MSCI, assistant professor, Division of Rheumatology, New York University School of Medicine. “When we had our first meetings, we found there were so many areas where we could have an impact. We want to make sure we build a community of people from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds within the ACR and express the commitment of the College that DEI needs are being met.”
Addressing healthcare disparities has been a priority of the ACR for years. The COIN department was formed in 2014, with the COIN Special Committee in 2019 to educate providers on gender, race and ethnic health disparities among patients, initially focusing on people with lupus, says Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman, MD, Solovy/Arthritis Research Society Research Professor, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Evanston, Ill., and COIN Special Committee chair. Now, there is an emerging awareness of, and accelerated focus on, diversity issues as well.
The ACR is working with a professional DEI consultant to conduct a needs assessment based on communication with other ACR committees and the wider membership. With the results, the consultant and the subcommittee will develop actionable goals and benchmarks to present to the Board of Directors for consideration, says Dr. Ramsey-Goldman. The ACR has also approved a new, full-time DEI staff position pending the results of the assessment.