President's Column: The Benefits of a Diverse Specialty

Richard L. Prager, MD, President

STS News, Fall 2017 --  Recognizing the growing diversity of the population and the patients that we serve, STS recently created a Special Ad Hoc Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. Inclusion was one of the founding principles when our Society was formed in 1964 for all cardiothoracic surgeons; creating this Task Force was a natural and comfortable move to maintain that tradition.

The mission of the Task Force is to cultivate an environment of inclusion and diversity within the Society, as well as the cardiothoracic surgery specialty. David T. Cooke is the Task Force Chair. Task Force members are of diverse ethnicity, practice geography within the US, and career stage. They include Leah M. Backhus, Melanie A. Edwards, Anthony L. Estrera, Luis A. Godoy, Douglas J. Mathisen, Jacqueline Olive, Ourania A. Preventza, Jennifer C. Romano, Vinod H. Thourani, and myself.

Survey on Diversity and Inclusion

To benchmark perceptions about diversity and inclusion in cardiothoracic surgery and within The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Task Force has developed a survey for US-based members. A link to that survey will be available in a few weeks, and it is critically important to the specialty that we get a good response rate.

The data and preliminary conclusions from this survey will be presented at a special session during the STS Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The session, “Diversity and Inclusion in Cardiothoracic Surgery: What’s In It for Me?,” will be held on Monday, January 29, following my Presidential Address.

To benchmark perceptions about diversity and inclusion in cardiothoracic surgery and within The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Task Force has developed a survey for US-based members.

Once we have analyzed the survey data and identified ways in which we can make positive changes, the Society will begin developing programs and resources that we hope will not only further diversify the cardiothoracic surgery workforce, but also lead to a better understanding of health care disparities among cardiothoracic surgery patients and, ultimately, better patient outcomes.

We know that we have some huge hurdles ahead of us; some of the disparities that are evident in our specialty begin well before residency. They are symptoms of disparities in our early education system. A lack of diversity starts before college, continues into college and medical school, and appears evident in the mid-to-senior cardiothoracic surgeons in the United States. If we can participate in ways to affect the demographic makeup in the earlier educational years, it will only be a matter of time before our cardiothoracic surgery workforce diversifies.

The Bonuses of Diversity

In the business world, diversity has been shown to increase innovation and group performance, improve financial performance, and enhance marketplace reputation. Other “bonuses of diversity” include better decision making by leaders, a more robust talent pool, and deeper engagement and loyalty from consumers, members, and other constituencies.

My colleague, Scott E. Page, the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has been promoting diversity for many years. His landmark book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Films, Schools, and Societies, describes how teams of diverse people can find better solutions than teams of like individuals. The best group decisions are those that draw upon “cognitive diversity”; they rely upon the qualities and perspectives that make each of us unique.

Next Steps

For STS, the initial step is recognizing where we are today. Data from the survey on diversity and inclusion will help in that regard. The next steps will be to expand the pathways into our specialty workforce and to create resources that will help us provide better quality care for patients who are culturally or linguistically different than we are.

Many other societies and medical organizations are embarking on similar courses of demographic reviews, including the American College of Cardiology, the American Surgical Association, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The Association of American Medical Colleges also is taking a look at foundational demographic data for medical schools across the United States and Canada.

By helping ourselves, we will be helping our patients. I sincerely believe that by creating a more diverse cardiothoracic surgery workforce, we will be able to better address the health care needs of our diverse population and improve the quality of care for our patients.