Equity & Inclusion in Medicine – Part 1: my experience as a BIPOC in medical training

As someone who integrated her elementary school in Ohio (a Yeshiva), enrolled in an exclusive prep school in New England and became the first AA female in her cardiology program, I’ve spent my life analyzing how to adapt to environments in which I was different. When I enter an environment, I learn the lay of the land, identify key players, and observe interactions. I am a fourth-generation African American physician and was raised learning about my relatives’ experiences as minorities in medicine. If I, as early as age 9, could learn how to thrive in diverse environments others can too. I would like to share these experiences and make a case for diversity in cardiology. With this blog, I will help kick off the New Year with part 1 of a multiple part series that aims to define bias in medical training; openly make a case for and provide solutions towards inclusion in cardiology.

In this blog, I will review specific features that demonstrate bias, which can lead to less diversity in training programs. These are topics related to experiences in medicine that are shared by myself as well as my BIPOC and women colleagues.

Affirmative Action, The myth

There’s this assumption that BIPOC has a leg up unfairly given by Affirmative Action, and therefore are enrolled in academic programs without earning it and being unqualified. Truthfully,  nepotism and ease of identifying mentors provide more opportunities than any small % quota which does not seem to translate to faculty positions. In research, at times I have had to become my own mentor to continue to propel myself forward. Without visible faculty mentors, it is difficult to envision a role in academic medicine which makes this career aspiration less likely for many BIPOC. The educational system’s balance as a whole has been skewed related to the American Caste system (consider reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson). This affects testing metrics and exposure to certain educational experiences. However, with the right inclusion, training, and belief in someone; talented students will become great physicians and cardiologists. In fact, this idea that BIPOC is all unqualified is ironic; many of us feel we have to work twice as hard with a cool and steady temperament all the way through (think of President Obama) to get half as far. Despite strong backgrounds; I often hear colleagues make comments like: “ They are not as clinical.” I already know the race before hearing the full story. We can’t all be inept; not possible.

Double Standards/ Lack of Benefit of the Doubt

Double standards, a topic at this nation’s center as we watched different responses to the siege on Capitol Hill. In cardiology and medicine, it is not uncommon that the same errors in one person may receive a different response from leadership compared to another. One cardiologist stated that he, like many of his colleagues, inadvertently caused a coronary dissection. The response, however, was harsher than what his colleagues experienced for the same incident.  One simple misunderstanding with a BIPOC resident or medical student led to unnecessary poor feedback to this resident that could have been remedied with a conversation. She was not given the benefit of the doubt like her peers would have; in fact, I don’t think the incident would have been reported at all considering how trivial it was. At times, we feel closely observed and overly scrutinized. At times by other women and BIPOC as well. Perhaps there is a “crabs in a barrel” mentality when there are so few represented in one place, this can actually create tension. What’s most difficult is, there’s less ability to be human; which is amplified when it seems as if there is not always a trustworthy authority to turn to. It may not be that one BIPOC placed in a leadership position; they may not want to rock the boat.

So we feel that we must work twice as hard; smile (wear the mask long before COVID19), with only marginal to no room for error (there is a great scene in the movie about the Tuskegee Airmen on HBO that highlights this point).

Abstract Feedback

Often we receive feedback that is very vague and abstract and seemingly more personal than constructive. It’s generally a vague comment that has one racking their brain over and over with no real tangible solution provided by the person giving the feedback; this was described in “Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back.” For example, I was once told, “You’re too confident.” How do I change my confidence? How can I be less confident, but at least somewhat self-assured? Do you see how this happens? Not too uncommonly we receive nonactionable feedback that has one racking their brain and can have an emotional impact. It’s distracting. Actionable feedback is more helpful especially if it is not something very personal and aimed more at patient care. One mentee of mine received an overall vague evaluation and marked her with critical deficiencies without good evidence. I did not want this practice to continue, and I wrote to the associate program director to describe the scenario and shared my concerns. It was determined that this evaluation was a mistake after a larger review. Imagine a situation had it stayed on her record; it could have had negative implications to her career, especially, when she is planning to pursue a selective fellowship.


During a medical school interview, I was asked if they should accept fewer women due to pregnancy. I was never comfortable sharing my pregnancy considering this was my first introduction. He assumed women couldn’t make these decisions, and that, affirmative action should be taken away (this was 2008; not long ago). I have also found that, before really knowing one’s interest, it is assumed a female cardiologist will pursue a career in imaging. I am often asked “ You’re doing imaging, right?” Or I’ve heard, “ she is an imager, typical.” This can impact cath scheduling if there are no fixed schedules for all fellows. In fact, scheduling is where bias can creep in ( I have heard of giving longer hours to BIPOC forcing one group of residents to threaten federal intervention.) This can be avoided with as much equal scheduling as possible (not always perfectly feasible) without assuming anything. Assumptions are not meant to be hurtful; it’s human nature. However, at times it may pigeonhole folks to roles that must end with women’s health, equity, or inclusion (exceptionally relevant roles). These folks can also have leadership roles related to other clinical interests as well.

Certainly, these may not all be unique to BIPOC and women; however, I hear similar stories over and over again, as if they are told by the same person. As we enter into a new era, I hope cardiology joins the future of progress. In parts II and III, I will answer why inclusion is important and some solutions on how to cultivate an inclusive specialty.

For this series, we will be discussing –

Part 1. My experience
Being hypnotized that I am lower in the caste system and limited. The emotion clouded my abilities and held me back from further progress. I have to prove my resume more than my colleagues every time and it’s exhausting. In research, I’ve felt like an outsider constantly having to build my own way and have been directly judged for lack of prolific publications.

Part 2. Why?
Embracing difference can help a program evolve (% diversity at Harvard ) it’s a win-win; a synergistic relationship in which we grow together. Representation matters, and to diversify the workforce will help the patients’ comfort and compliance.

Part 3. How?
Aim for a standard similar to Goldman Sachs’s 25%1.  Provide resources and assistance to BIPOC. Show up for each other. Engage ABC and uplift ; normalize discussing differences and being different. Check in with your BIPOC trainees’ wellbeings, if there are issues driven by bias speak up with your peers in a collegial way.



  1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2774738?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social_jamajno&utm_term=4395647160&utm_campaign=article_alert&linkId=108893385

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Are Not Just Buzzwords— Practical Steps for People Who Teach

Those of us who work in science, healthcare, and academia often find ourselves teaching others, whether or not we set out to be educators. Residents teach medical students. Nurses precept new nurses. Graduate students teach undergraduates. And faculty roles for researchers and clinicians also include teaching loads. Yet for many of us, our training did not include any grounding in how to teach. We might not have brought the same theoretical rigor and deep expertise to our teaching that we have to our other roles. Now, as we are teaching in a world of rapid change and increased awareness around structural racism, we must approach equity in our educational practices with intention, but some among us may not feel prepared and we are already overwhelmed. We are already adapting to enormous change related to COVID-19, and the intellectual energy required to reexamine another entire part of your professional life can feel paralyzing. It can feel like an impossible task that there will never be time for.

Despite these barriers, I strongly believe that you can start (or carry on) right now, no matter where you or your institution are in the struggle for antiracism. Here are some immediate suggestions to make your practice as an educator explicitly equity-focused and antiracist, for folks who teach in all kinds of contexts (these topics work for self-education, too):

No matter what format you teach in, there are some basic practices you can adopt to establish a “floor” for equity and inclusion.

  • Can you pronounce the name of everyone in your group? Do you know what they prefer to be called and what pronouns they use? Some teachers inadvertently avoid calling on students because they haven’t bothered to learn these things and don’t want to make a mistake. Don’t be that teacher.
  • How much time does every person (including you) speak? Is anyone taking up more space than they need? Now, the era of video calls, some platforms can actually show you how much time each individual speaks for, and this can be eye-opening. I encourage you to actually measure and observe this at least once. It can be surprising to see how some groups are consistently dominating conversation at the expense of others.
  • Have you adopted principles of Universal Design for Learning in your teaching? If not, now is a good time to start. UDL is a set of principles that improves the experience for all learners by focusing on accessibility and flexibility and assuming diversity.
  • Are you yourself familiar with concepts of antiracism? Have you examined your own privilege, bias, and ignorance? Are you learning?

For those who teach in a classroom or seminar format, Dr. Valerie Lewis has shared some more tips:

  • Include an equity-focused reading with every topic (e.g., if you are teaching about asthma, include an article about disparities related to race and social determinants of health).
  • Message that equity isn’t a specialty; every field should address it as part of ongoing professional practice.
  • Create a dedicated class session for equity, and if possible do two— one at the beginning to frame the ideas for learning, and one towards the end to integrate the content you’ve covered with broader ideas around equity. This can help to lay the groundwork for ongoing reflective professional practice.
  • Audit your syllabus: can you include AT LEAST one scholar of color every week? You might have go-to reading lists that you’ve inherited or developed, but if your list doesn’t measure up, you can change it. Go to PubMed or google scholar. Look at professional societies. Ask colleagues. Crowd-source on twitter. This is a key way to amplify voices— remember that citations are academic currency.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be open with students that you are doing this intentionally and why, and take feedback.

This is not a checklist or an exhaustive resource for inclusivity. But I hope that if you are floundering as you try to figure out how to teach with a focus on equity and inclusion, that you’ve got a good first foothold. Let’s keep the conversation going— I’d love to hear more ideas. Hit me up on twitter @TheKnightNurse and let me know what you are doing.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Why Advocacy is Critical for the Future of Cardiovascular Research & Medicine

As researchers and physicians, many of us got in to our professions to push the scientific enterprise further to ultimately help others. We’ve all trained for an insane amount of years and collectively we work as a unit to uncover the intricacies of the cardiovascular system, develop therapeutics and treat patients. We traditionally think of ourselves as researchers or physicians first, but obviously we are all so much more than our jobs. We are also citizens within a really complex system that has been continually struggling to serve all of its citizens equally. It’s no secret that access to affordable health care is currently not equitable within our society. Similarly, there are also large diversity & inclusivity issues within our training institutions for both researchers and physicians.

However, something we don’t think about enough is that our intensive training and experience within these systems has also prepared us to be effective advocates for these issues. We have the opportunity to promote tangible change and some might argue it’s even our responsibility.

One of the things I really appreciate about being apart of the American Heart Association (AHA) is that this is something the organization doesn’t shy away from. During his presidential address at AHA Scientific Sessions 2018, Dr. Ivor Benjamin gave a heartfelt and determined talk about what the future of the AHA’s advocacy mission looks like. He discussed how supporting local and federal advocacy, early careers and mentoring is key to supporting the future of the AHA – but only 3% of cardiac professionals are African American men and this is something the AHA wants to help change. To help solve the diversity and inclusivity issues within the cardiac field, the AHA is expanding major undergraduate initiatives to fix the leaky pipeline. My favorite part of Dr. Benjamin’s talk was when he urged everyone at AHA18 to get involved in advocacy, not just for our field, but also for our communities. Because this is the key point: in order for our work to have meaning and to be effective, we need to ensure our communities are healthy. We also need to put value to advocacy efforts in our field – this is an essential part of our profession.

Well, this is all great, but how can you get involved? We are all insanely busy; I know adding advocacy efforts can seem daunting. Luckily for all of us, one of the focuses of the AHA for January is Advocacy. Since over 7 million Americans with cardiovascular disease are currently uninsured, advocating for the protection of the Affordable Care Act is something we can all do from our computers right now.

How can you help? (Provided by the AHA newsroom)



Looking for more ways to help on other issues?

  • The AHA has a great advocacy resource page for to get involved with efforts at the federal, state and community levels with issues regarding health care, tobacco prevention, and healthy lifestyles for kids.
  • Sign up here to become part of the AHA’s grassroots network, You’re the Cure, which is focused on advocating for heart-healthy and stroke-smart communities.
  • There are many great non-profits around the country focused on promoting science funding, literacy, inclusion, diversity & advocacy – finding the right one for you is key and many of them have already done the legwork by developing toolkits for you to get started in your community.
  • Interested in STEM outreach as a way to get involved in your community? The great Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Participating in local educational initiatives is one of the best ways to expose kids to what scientists and physicians actually look like (in addition to getting them excited about science). The STEM Ecosystem is a great way to get started; there are local chapters all over the country.

I recently watched the brilliant documentary (I highly recommend it!) about Mr. Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, where I was reminded of his advice many of us take comfort in during intense times.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers

We are the helpers. Its time we use our power to advocate for equity within our field and communities.




Representation Matters: How Can We Improve Equity and Diversity in Our Professional Lives?

This past August, the phrase “Representation Matters” commonly graced entertainment and popular culture headlines. Why? In what was ultimately called “Asian August,” several major movies starring Asian-American actors were appearing in theaters, led by the first American film to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years – “Crazy Rich Asians.” This fervor was inspired by over two decades of under-representation of Asian-American culture in the entertainment industry.

As I am an Asian-American, this particular movement did indeed resonate with me in my personal life. However, I regrettably was not mindful about it in my professional life. Throughout my training, I felt that I had worked with, learned from, and/or befriended men and women of a wide variety of colors, beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds. Perhaps it was because I was fortunate to train in programs that were diverse, but I don’t necessarily recall reflecting on the diversity nor the benefits of diversity.

In early December 2018, Dr. Hannah Valantine visited our campus at UCLA to deliver our Medicine Grand Rounds lecture, and she was kind enough to meet with many of our faculty and trainees. A renowned physician-scientist and advanced heart failure/transplant specialist, Dr. Valantine is the NIH’s first Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. She led an outstanding, eloquent, and (of course) evidence-based discussion on the importance of improving the diversity in academic medicine. She highlighted the emphasis that the NIH is placing on this mission, and the resources her office has developed to not only educate professionals on the issues at hand, but also a toolkit they have created to help promote diversity at our institutions, including how to create a diverse talent pool and perform unbiased talent searches.

Dr. Valantine presented data showing that while there has been improvement in diversity of trainees early in their training, there remains a significant “transition barrier” for diversity upon entering the junior faculty stage of an academic career (between “Postdoc” and “Independence” in the slide below).


Further, she also mentioned data supporting the improved performance of more diverse groups. In an article from Nature this past year, the subjective and objective benefits of diversity were featured. Interestingly, in an analysis of over 9 million scientific articles, one group found that research “papers written by ethnically diverse groups were cited 11.2% more than were papers written by non-diverse groups.”

With clear reasons for why we should work to focus on a culture of equity and diversity in our scientific workforce, I realized that I will soon be at a stage where I will be choosing the members of my research team. In the spirit of the New Year and with the help of tools provided Dr. Valantine, I have made the following “resolutions” to myself to help prepare myself as I embark on organizing a research team in the future:

  • Discover and explore my implicit biases: There are online resources/tutorials on implicit bias, including an excellent one from my home institution, UCLA, as well as tests you can take to discover your own implicit biases. Regrettably, after my first test, I already learned that my results suggested, stereotypically, “a moderate association for ‘Male’ with ‘Career’ and ‘Female’ with ‘Family.’”
  • Be mindful of the benefits of diversity when present: Whether in a research group or the team I am rounding with in the hospital, I plan to acknowledge these benefits when present, whether aloud or to myself.
  • Follow the NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity blog: It is an excellent reminder of reasons and ways to create an effective & diverse scientific team.


In one of her excellent blog posts from last year, Dr. Valantine wrote:

“Our nation is presented with the unique opportunity of connecting an increasingly diverse talent pool of scientists with the full range of biomedicine careers encompassing basic discovery to health applications, a critical part of the NIH mission to advance human health.”


I am grateful that the NIH has placed high priority on this mission, because indeed, Representation Matters, and in the field of academic medicine, representation can lead to better science and better treatments for our patients.