Diversity is who we are. From our DNA to our interaction with the world around us, it’s through diversity that we can interpret our individuality and gauge our inclusivity. Diversity transcends race, ethnicity and gender, to which it is most commonly associated, and is the very fabric of our nation and planet.
As a member of AGA I am proud of our diversity and with every Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) conference I attend, I am reminded of it. It is the pulse of our organization. Throughout the history of AGA, this pulse has strengthened and our leadership is devoted to making it stronger by cultivating diversity of thought and people.
This commitment spawned the genesis of the AGA Diversity Committee (formerly known as the Underrepresented Minorities Committee) in 1992 and has fostered its evolution over time. It is our mission to foster and promote involvement, advancement and recognition of the full spectrum of the diverse constituency of AGA that includes underrepresented groups, address (through policy recommendations and programs) barriers to access and utilization of health-care services among patients with digestive disease, and develop strategies that may assist all AGA members in providing high-quality and high-value care to increasingly diverse patient populations. Furthermore, our committee assesses AGA’s strategic plan to ensure that it reflects the interests and concerns of our diverse membership, and advocates for involvement of underrepresented members in all facets of the organization.
This year, the Diversity Committee devised AGA’s first policy on diversity:
AGA is committed to diversity, which is an inclusive concept that encompasses race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation and disability. We strive to cultivate diversity within the organization at all levels, including governance, committee structure, staffing, and program and policy development. We are committed to the following goals intended to reflect the interests of the diverse patient population we serve:
1. Promotion of diversity within the practice of gastroenterology and in the individual care of patients of all backgrounds.
2. Recruitment and retention of GI providers and researchers from diverse backgrounds and the support of the advancement of their careers.
3. Elimination of disparities in GI diseases through community engagement, research and advocacy.
It is through this commitment that we will improve the digestive health of our communities and cultivate a GI workforce that more accurately reflects the demographics of our diverse patient populations. As of August 2016, fewer than 6 percent of AGA members self-identified as African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic or multi-racial. Only 22 percent were female. This is comparable to the demographic distribution of gastroenterologists across the U.S. as determined by the American Medical Association. The Diversity Committee leads AGA’s involvement or is an active participant in several key initiatives aimed at addressing these gaps. One initiative is the Investing in the Future (IITF) Program that started in 2011 as a collaboration between AGA and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (Grant# R25DK096968). IITF is aimed at increasing the representation of minorities in GI through the engagement of medical students and residents from underrepresented groups. This includes formal presentations and a hands-on endoscopy simulation facilitated by gastroenterologists. The IITF has held 27 such presentations involving over 2,200 students, seven institutions, and 19 national or regional conferences.
A separate offering, the IITF Student Research Program, supports undergraduate and medical students for an eight-to-10-week research project with an AGA member. AGA has supported 10 students annually. Additionally, AGA has supported the participation of underrepresented minority investigators in the biennial AGA-AASLD Academic Skills Workshop. There is ample opportunity for improvement, however. Certainly, we can begin by ensuring that we understand the needs of all of our membership, including our LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersex, asexual) and disabled members for whom we currently have no data reference. Additionally,we can strengthen our efforts towards increasing diversity in academic advancement, retention and leadership succession within the field of GI and throughout our GI societies. The AGA Diversity Committee is one thread within this intricate fabric. It is only through the united front of all AGA members and members of the other GI societies that we can continue to move beyond settling for the cliché of diversity and instead progress purposefully towards improving the landscape of our workforce and reconciling the disparities in GI health in our communities.
Dr. Gray has no conflicts to disclose.
1. American Medical Association. Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the US, 2015 edition.