Discrimination, gender bias toward health care staff common

Volume 8, Issue 3, September 2019

Summary

Cancer doctors face racism and gender disparity from both patients and colleagues, studies find.

Katharine A. Price, M.D.

Katharine A. Price, M.D.

Rahma Warsame, M.D.

Rahma Warsame, M.D.

Narjust Duma, M.D.

Narjust Duma, M.D.

Mayo Clinic researchers presented two studies at the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago that explore discrimination and gender bias in health care.

Katharine A. Price, M.D., a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Rahma Warsame, M.D., a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, presented a study on discrimination and inclusion among hematology and oncology trainees. The study involved anonymous telephone interviews with 17 hematology and oncology fellows about discrimination, harassment and inclusion encountered while on duty.

According to the study, discrimination toward hematology and oncology fellows was common, and it was more common from patients than from staff.

"Discrimination from patients was most common based upon accent and race but also was reported based on gender, ethnicity and being perceived as 'other,'" Dr. Warsame said. She said trainees commented that having diverse colleagues and supportive programs and being involved in organizational leadership were helpful in promoting inclusivity.

The second study, led by Narjust Duma, M.D., a former chief hematology-oncology fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, examined gender bias in speaker introductions at a major oncology conference. Dr. Duma is now on staff at the Carbone Cancer Center in Wisconsin.

"Gender bias can be reinforced through the use of gender-subordinating language and differences in forms of address," Dr. Duma said.

Dr. Duma's gender bias study reviewed 781 presentations from the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings video archive and found that women presenters were less likely to receive a professional form of address and more likely to be introduced by first name only. Men who introduced speakers were more likely to introduce women by first name only, and not professional title. Women who introduced speakers were more likely to introduce speakers by their professional title, regardless of gender.

"Our results suggest that unconscious bias may be present and may be a driver of gender disparities in medicine," Dr. Duma said.

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