Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Jun 29, 2021

On today’s episode, Dr. Pamela Kunz, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at the Yale School of Medicine, and vice chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Medical Oncology at Yale, discusses compelling sessions from the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting that addressed gender disparities in the global oncology workforce and sexual harassment experienced by oncologists.



ASCO Daily News: Welcome to the ASCO Daily News Podcast. I'm Geraldine Carroll, a reporter for the ASCO Daily News. My guest today is Dr. Pamela Kunz, an associate professor of medicine in the division of oncology at the Yale School of Medicine where she also serves as the director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers. Dr. Kunz also serves as the vice chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for medical oncology at Yale. Today, Dr. Kunz will highlight strategies to dismantle gender disparities in the global oncology workforce featured at the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting. She will also tell us about the first study in oncology to systemically characterize the incidence of sexual harassment experienced by oncologists.

Dr. Kunz reports no conflicts of interest relating to our discussion today and her full disclosures are available on the transcript of this episode. Dr. Kunz, welcome back; it's great to have you on the podcast again. 

Dr. Pamela Kunz: Thank you so much. My pleasure to be here.

ASCO Daily News: The theme of the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting was Equity. Every Patient. Everyday. Everywhere.  Equity issues also apply to the oncology workforce and there were some very interesting discussions at the meeting on workplace disparities and harassment. You chaired an education session on dismantling gender disparities in the global oncology workforce. This session brought together a really interesting and diverse panel of experts  in medicine.  They discussed compelling data around gender disparities and steps to diversify leadership in medicine. They also looked at the role of male allies and how allies and advocates can support all women, and shared strategies on how to activate and empower female leaders.  Can you tell us more about this session? ("Dismantling Gender Disparities in the Global Oncology Workforce Together"). 

Dr. Pamela Kunz: Sure. This was--thank you for asking about that session. I think that really the theme of equity permeated so many different aspects of this Annual Meeting. And I think it was really inspiring and I think incredibly helpful to think about really reimagining how we provide cancer care. And I think I really like to think of workforce disparities as the other side of the same coin of patient disparities or inequities in patient care. I think that in order for us to provide equitable patient care, we really have to provide and create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce.

And so this is really one aspect of that is around gender disparities or, of course, other disparities in the workforce. And we actually do touch on that in one of the talks. So we put together a diverse panel that represents a number of different viewpoints. They were not all oncologists. In fact, I was the only medical oncologist on.

Dr. Reshma Jagsi is a radiation oncologist. And Dr. Hannah Valentine is a cardiologist who was previously at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the inaugural director of their diversity program. Dr. Leon McDougle also spoke. He's a family medicine physician, the current president of the National Medical Association. And Mrs. Dee Anna Smith is the CEO of Sarah Cannon Research Institute. So we had this really incredibly diverse group of perspectives. And as you mentioned, we really touched on a whole variety of topics.

I think it's also worth just mentioning kind of the scenes for this. This session originated well over 2 years ago. And I think that the timing of this now happening in 2021 following the pandemic I think was really incredibly important. I think we didn't really recognize it at the time. We were supposed to do this session last year in 2020. And it was really the 2020 planning committee that approved the session with Dr. Howard Skip Burris and Dr. Tatiana Prowell and Dr. Melissa Johnson. We had all these conversations of how do we get men in the room to talk about gender disparities? And we really crafted this panel to try to address a diverse audience and get everyone in the room. And then it was really so well timed with Dr. Pierce's ASCO theme of equity for every patient, every day, everywhere. It really just tied in nicely.

ASCO Daily News: Excellent. What are the key takeaways here for oncologists? 

Dr. Pamela Kunz: Sure. I can add some of that. I think that the first--and this was really addressed by Dr. Reshma Jagsi--is that we need to collect the data. We need to measure evidence of disparities at our institutions, in our organizations in order to really know where we're starting and in order to know how we're getting better. We have a lot of objective data already. But I think that I want to challenge all of our listeners to think about how can we be better about collecting that data in our own institutions.

I think that the takeaways from Dr. Valentine's talk were some really wonderful concrete solutions to diversify the workforce. She took some lessons learned from programs she initiated at the NIH. And I'd like to specifically highlight a program at the NIH called the Scientific Workforce Diversity Toolkit. And in that, they instituted a program for cohort hiring in the Distinguished Scholars program. And this was bringing together a diverse group of underrepresented minorities and women into this scholars program. And they demonstrated really increased rates of female tenure track investigators. And I think that we can all do that in our institutions and organizations by instituting cohort hiring.

From Dr. Leon McDougle's talk, he really highlighted this concept of intersectional feminism. And this term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. She's a professor of law at Columbia University. And it speaks to the fact that many marginalized characteristics or people who are in underrepresented groups may have characteristics that intersect. So that includes gender, age, sexuality, education, race, culture, ethnicity. And if any one person has a number of these characteristics, they may, in fact, increase the burden on that individual and may increase their risk for discrimination and for disparities.

And I think it's recognizing the intersection. Intersectionality happens. And our women of color and our women who may have these other marginalized characteristics may be especially at risk. He also talked about a program at the Ohio State where he is on faculty entitled Advocates and Allies. And it's a National Science Foundation-funded program that trains men how to be advocates and allies.

And then lastly, Miss. Dee Anna Smith spoke about creating a tapestry of allyship. She had this beautiful visual metaphor of really bringing together not just mentors. It's sort of modernizing the idea of mentorship and to really thinking more about allyship and how our trainees need to bring together, yes, perhaps mentors, but that allies really can represent an alternative to mentorship and a tapestry meaning that you need more than one person to serve as an ally for you. So I think those were--it it truly was--I moderated. I think these folks did all of the work in presenting. But it was really inspiring and I think very solution focused.

ASCO Daily News:  Well, you were also the discussant of session that addressed a new study, Abstract 11001 on sexual harassment of oncologists. Now, few studies have used comprehensive validated measures to investigate the incidence and impact of workplace sexual harassment experienced by physicians and none, according to the authors of this study, by oncologists. So this is really important. What can you tell us about it?

Dr. Pamela Kunz: Yes, absolutely. And I think the points that you made already really make this important and validate it. And I think the findings then in and of themselves are quite striking. So this group of authors led by Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah conducted a study. It was a cross-sectional survey of ASCO's research survey pool. And they then used the sexual experiences questionnaire, which is a validated questionnaire, as you mentioned. And this is really I think a real strength of the study. And they examined various aspects of sexual harassment.

I think it's important for our listeners to understand the definition of sexual harassment. So this includes gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion. And gender harassment includes things that if we use the iceberg analogy, which they included in their presentation and was so nicely described in the NASEM, the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine report from 2018, the iceberg really underneath the surface contains many of these aspects of gender harassment that go unnoticed and unrecognized and include things like microaggressions.

And in this study, they evaluated four downstream domains impacted by workplace sexual harassment including mental health, job satisfaction, sense of safety at work, and turnover intentions, meaning if an individual planned on leaving that specific job. And they looked at incidents of sexual harassment both by perpetrator, so institutional insiders or patients and families, and then by type of sexual harassment. So they received about a 30% response rate. They had 304 practicing oncologists access the survey link. And 273 provided responses.

And I'll just hit some of the take-homes. So I think what I was struck by is the high rate of sexual harassment when the perpetrator is an institutional insider. So those are peers or supervisors. 70% of physicians reported one or more incidences of sexual harassment. This was higher in women. So, 80% of women reported sexual harassment compared to 56% of men. So, that was statistically different. But I was really struck by the fact that men were experiencing this as well.

And then in terms of sexual harassment incidents when the perpetrator was a family or patient, 53% of physicians reported one or more incidences of sexual harassment. And this was 67% for women and 35% for men, also statistically significant. In terms of that difference. And then really a significant downstream impact from these experiences both for physicians who experienced this harassment from institutional insiders or from patients and families. And I think that we saw that really across the board for mental health, workplace safety, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions.

And I think the take home for our listeners is that this can really lead to a significant loss of talent. And I think that if we are really hoping to--see, this is me editorializing. We are hoping to improve the diversity of our workforce because we know that that leads to better patient care and better patient outcomes. This is really important for our workforce to try to tackle and solve this problem of sexual harassment.

ASCO Daily News: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Dr. Kunz, for highlighting some really important issues in oncology today.

Dr. Pamela Kunz: Thank you so much.

ASCO Daily News: Our listeners will find links to the two sessions discussed today on the transcript of this episode. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts.


Disclosures: Dr. Pamela Kunz

Stock and Other Ownership Interests: Guardant Health

Consulting or Advisory Role: Ipsen, Lexicon, SunPharma, Acrotech Biopharma, Novartis (Advanced Accelerator Applications)

Research Funding (institution): Lexicon, Ipsen, Xencor, Brahms (Thermo Fisher Scientific), Novartis (Advanced Accelerator Applications)

Disclaimer: The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.