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The Black Lives Matter movement has surfaced longstanding issues of racism across sectors. Health services research (HSR) is no exception. Today, as we gather virtually for the Annual Research Meeting, this blog post traces the then, now and future of diversity and inclusion in HSR. After you’ve finished reading this blog post, we ask that you participate in the survey we describe in this post to help us advance progress in the field.

Black Lives Matter

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd Jr. was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who pressed his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This among the other murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black lives was a catalyst to civil unrest across the U.S. For some, these actions are a long overdue acknowledgement that racism that is woven into the fabric of American society. However, we are hopeful that this is the beginning of a shift towards dismantling racism throughout our policies and institutions. Like many sectors, the field of HSR has refocused on the important question of how we can ensure we’re addressing the structural racism and discrimination within our own field so that we can be professionally welcoming to people of all identities.

We were pleased to see that AcademyHealth, our professional society, acknowledges racism as a public health crisis.

“We know that racism kills both directly and indirectly, and we must use all the tools of health services research to root out and address its toxic influence on health and health care,” wrote Dr. Lisa Simpson, President and CEO of AcademyHealth in an AcademyHealth blog post from June 2020. “We must strive for changes that increase diversity in the health services research workforce and support inclusive and nurturing environments for our diverse peers wherever they work or live.”

For this to happen, we must elevate the work and research interests of trainees and researchers from racial-ethnic minority groups who have been chronically underrepresented and undervalued in our field. In 2018, Bianca Frogner, Ph.D., published findings in HSR showing that despite the field’s longstanding goals and efforts to create a diverse workforce and educational pipeline, racial and ethnic minority members remained underrepresented. They have the lived experiences and perspectives to inform health services and policy research on racism. And even for racial and ethnic minority members of the field, there are many barriers to success. For instance, racial-ethnic minority researchers are often called upon more frequently to take on the straining work of race-related service within the work place. This strain impacts their career development and promotion potential.

Efforts to Advance Diversity and Inclusion in HSR

In 2013, the AcademyHealth Board of Directors funded the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Minority Engagement (DIME), now directed by AcademyHealth Vice President Margo Edmunds, PhD. The Center sponsored a roundtable meeting in June 2014 which led to the 2015 report, The Future of Diversity and Inclusion in Health Services and Policy Research. The report featured five overarching consensus recommendations:

  1. Develop a diversity and inclusion plan and share it publicly
  2. Communicate clearly about AcademyHealth’s commitment to diversity in goal statements, programmatic language, graphic images, and events
  3. Collect better data on AcademyHealth’s progress in advancing diversity and inclusion goals and report it publicly
  4. Promote best practices for diversity and inclusion in the current HSR workforce
  5. Create a more racially and ethnically diverse pipeline for the future HSR workforce

As a result of the 2015 report, AcademyHealth has begun to collect better data on the demographics of its members; engaged student chapters and diverse fellows and junior faculty in social and programmatic events; has held annual breakout sessions to feature different aspects of workforce diversity; and has regularly reported to the AcademyHealth Board of Directors on these and other activities to promote diversity and inclusion. AcademyHealth conference breakout sessions now feature more diverse groupings of expert presenters and plenary sessions have included frank discussions about disparities, diversity, equity, racism, and inclusion. Indeed there are several plenary sessions at this year’s ARM dedicated to related topics.  

But, as Dr. Simpson said in her blog post: “There is so much work to do. The [protests sparked by police brutality] build on centuries of deep seated structural, cultural and interpersonal racism. It will take sustained, long term effort to turn this deadly tide.”

The HSR Workplace Culture Study

In late 2019, a team of doctoral students and faculty members convened to develop an initiative to understand where the field of HSR is now, and how we can move forward.

As a part of this study, we have launched the HSR Workplace Culture Study to evaluate the current professional climate of the HSR workforce, and to what extent institutions, organizations, and AcademyHealth members have engaged in the efforts recommended in the 2015 report. Our goals are as follows:

  1. Describe the professional climate of the field, as experienced by the HSR workforce and educational pipeline.
  2. Describe efforts in the HSR field to advance diversity and inclusion since the release of the 2015 Future of Diversity and Inclusion in Health Services Research.
  3. Identify opportunities for further research and action to enable the field of HSR to advance diversity and inclusion.

For this study, we will distribute a survey and conduct focus groups of HSR professionals, trainees, and students, addressing these questions. The survey will be available online until September 4th, 2020 and can be accessed here.

If you are interested in participating in the focus group, click here. Focus groups will be conducted via Zoom in September and October 2020.

Your input is critical to helping health services and policy research progress as a profession that not only espouses diversity and inclusion, but becomes a source of support for the researchers, and thereby policymakers and communities, in working to address racism in health and healthcare. This study does not require AcademyHealth membership or affiliation, so please share broadly with your HSR colleagues.

To learn more about the HSR Workplace Culture Study, tune into the ARM DIME panel presentation, Creating Safe Spaces in the Workplace: Promoting a Diverse, Inclusive, and Sustainable Research Culture on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 at 1:15-2:15 p.m. ET.

This study receives financial and logistical support from AcademyHealth, the Health Resources and Services Administration (through the University of California, Davis Center for a Diverse Healthcare Workforce), and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The analysis will be conducted by the members of the team; AcademyHealth will not have direct access to study data or participant contact information.

Taylor B. Rogers
Committee Member, Member

Taylor B. Rogers, M.P.H.

Ph.D. Student - UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Taylor B. Rogers is a third-year Ph.D. student studying Health Policy and Management at the UCLA Fielding Scho... Read Bio

Tongtan Chantarat headshot
Committee Member, Member

Tongtan (Bert) Chantarat, M.P.H.

Doctoral Candidate - University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Tongtan (Bert) Chantarat is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Read Bio

Carmen Mitchell headshot
Committee Member, Member

Carmen Mitchell, M.P.H.

Criminal Justice Policy Analyst - Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

Carmen Mitchell is a criminal justice policy analyst the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and a doctoral ca... Read Bio

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