Addressing Disparities in Research

Distinguished panel sparks discussion, call to action

This article, written by Rachel Shafer, was originally published in the OHSU School of Medicine internal blog "SoM Research Voice"


Norwood Knight-Richardson, M.D., M.A., MBA, stated it plainly:

"Health outcomes are different if you're a minority in America," said the OHSU chief diversity officer, senior vice president and chief administrative officer. "We have long known there is bias in research, which affects data relevance across populations and compromises clinical outcomes. We also know there is bias in mentoring, and yet mentoring is key to a researcher's success. Each one of us is a recruiter. Each one of us has the ability to retain those recruits. Our nation, our state, our communities are growing in diversity. Research must embrace this diversity to assure reliable data and a reduction in health care inequities." (Pictured: Dr. Knight-Richardson. left, speaks about disparities in research)

At the monthly meeting of the Collaborative Research Leadership Group on Dec. 10, seven panelists joined Dr. Knight-Richardson and moderator Cynthia Morris, Ph.D., MPH, SoM assistant dean of admissions, in a wide-ranging discussion about diversity in OHSU research and the practical matters of creating a more diverse faculty and student body as well as improving diverse representation in research studies.

The panelists were:

  • Leslie Garcia, MPA, assistant chief diversity officer and vice provost
  • Tom Becker, M.D., Ph.D., chair and professor of public health and preventive medicine
  • Katie Zuckerman, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics
  • Dominic Siler, M.D./Ph.D. student
  • Mary Henricher, Ph.D., professor of behavioral neuroscience
  • Charles Thomas, M.D., chair and professor of radiation medicine
  • Damien Fair, PA-C, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry

1_IMG_8615An overall goal of the SoM Research Roadmap is to increase awareness and accountability for ensuring a diverse faculty and student body at OHSU. Addressing disparities in research at OHSU is a key theme for Research Roadmap work in 2012-2013. These efforts dovetail with the university's forthcoming Diversity Strategic Action Plan.

During the discussion, several points emerged. OHSU's Center for Diversity and Inclusion (led by Garcia) has programs and initiatives underway to advance diversity at the university including tools and resources to assist faculty in recruitment. CDI is also in the process of hiring a faculty recruitment specialist who will lend expertise to faculty members and administrators during a recruitment. (Pictured: Leslie Garcia explains the Center for Diversity and Inclusion's programs)

Communications are crucial in helping faculty and administrators find and connect with tools and resources as well as to learn about outcomes and progress. CDI now has a communications specialist on board, Maileen Hamto, who will serve as point person for disseminating information and other diversity communications efforts.

One of the most important things faculty can do to help in the diversity effort is to grow the pipeline by participating in mentoring opportunities including CDI's programs, says Garcia. Interested faculty who would like more information or would like to volunteer for a mentoring partnership should contact Garcia. The OHSU research community is encouraged to partner with CDI in their student and faculty recruitment efforts as well as community outreach.

Pipeline programs work, and panelist Siler described himself as an example. Dr. Thomas added, "When you mentor, treat that person like a potential faculty member. Don't focus on what's in it for you or your division but how a potential recruitment can help the wider OHSU community." This PDF entitled Graduate Programs Diversity Resources provides more information about CDI's pipeline programs.

1_IMG_8646Two panelists, Dr. Fair and Dr. Becker, have been able to broaden diversity and representation within their research and they shared tips. One of the most important things to do, they suggested, is to create a parallel outreach effort that connects you to the community members in a dedicated way and builds trust.

"It is difficult to get a representative population," Dr. Fair said. "But it's really important we have diverse participants. The work we do has the potential to impact medical practice and governmental policies. We have to make sure that our treatments and policies are representative of all of our people." (Pictured: Dr. Fair, left, and Dr. Thomas)

In addition, the university has allocated some significant resources for use in faculty and student recruitment across the university. Division and department heads who would like to request additional funds to assist in a recruitment effort should contact Dr. Knight-Richardson.

"All of us have a responsibility to address disparities, to be accountable for outcomes and to identify the contributions we can make to this effort," said Mary Stenzel-Poore, senior associate dean for research. "This needs to become a priority in all our research planning efforts."

Photos credit: Maileen Hamto