“The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has worked diligently and effectively to expand the pool of underrepresented in medicine physicians who provide care for patients with digestive diseases,” remarks Byron Cryer, MD, FORWARD principal investigator and associate dean for the office of faculty diversity & development, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
This long history of promoting and encouraging diversity in the field is notable; however, the society recognizes that there is still more to be done to prepare and sponsor underrepresented in medicine physician-scientists to assume leadership positions in the field.
“As of 2017, only 3.2% of gastroenterology fellows were African American and 8.5% were Hispanic,” remarked Sandra Quezada, MD, AGA Chair, Diversity Committee. These statistics closely correspond to AGA’s membership demographics, where only 3.36% of AGA members are African American and 5.53% are Hispanic, among those reporting ethnicity.
Under the leadership of principal investigators Byron Cryer, MD, and Sheila Crowe, MD, and coinvestigators Juanita Merchant, MD, and Jesus Rivera-Nieves, MD, AGA developed the FORWARD (Fostering Opportunities Resulting in Workforce and Research Diversity) program.
This program was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases through an education project (R25) grant.
The overall objective of the grant is to enhance the diversity of the biomedical science research workforce in gastroenterology and to prepare individuals to assume leadership positions within the AGA and in academic medicine.
The FORWARD program has three aims:
1. Provide skill development in leadership – including general leadership development, executive coaching, and opportunities for leadership experience within the society.
2. Implement a diversity management plan focused on active mentoring approaches, using both one-on-one and networking approaches, to provide opportunities for broad support and sponsorship.
3. Provide training for skill development in research careers including training in research development, management of research groups, scientific manuscript, and grant writing.
The program targets fellows and early-career faculty and was promoted broadly to society membership and to past participants in AGA diversity programs. Through a rigorous selection process, 10 physician-scientists were selected among a qualified pool of applicants. Participants were matched with experienced academic gastroenterologists who committed to serve as their professional mentors throughout the course of their participation in the FORWARD program.
The first FORWARD cohort kicked off in March 2019 and will conclude May 2020. They convened at AGA’s inaugural 2½ day Leadership Development Conference. During the conference, the 10 FORWARD scholars joined with 18 AGA Future Leader program participants and 40 Women’s Leadership Conference attendees to participate in leadership development training that addressed such topics as building resilience, presentation skills, negotiation, career success in an ever-changing scientific environment, emotional intelligence, and other key topics designed to bolster their skills as emerging leaders in gastroenterology. With seven past and current AGA presidents in attendance, the FORWARD participants had the unique opportunity to learn about the career paths and gain advice from key leaders in the field while also networking with fellow emerging leaders in both the Future Leaders program and Women’s Leadership Conference.