In This Article
- Sophia Kamran, MD, has been appointed as the first-ever director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) for Mass General Cancer Center's Radiation Oncology Department
- As the Director of DE&I, Dr. Kamran will work closely with peers within Mass General Brigham and Harvard Medical School on collective initiatives
- In this Q&A, she shares more about her experiences at Mass General and her work in the DE&I space
Sophia Kamran, MD, has been appointed as the first-ever director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) for Mass General Cancer Center's Department of Radiation Oncology. She will help in our efforts to increase a sense of true belonging within the department and will connect with her peers within Mass General Brigham (MGB) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) on collective initiatives. In addition, Dr. Kamran will work closely with the department's established Radiation Oncology Coalition Against Racism.
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In this Q&A, Dr. Kamran shares more about her experiences at Mass General and her work in the DE&I space.
Q: How long have you been at Mass General, and what is your favorite thing about working here?
Kamran: I have been at Mass General as a resident since 2014, and on faculty since 2018. My favorite things about Mass General are the people, the teamwork, and the overall dedication to patient care. We push the frontiers of knowledge in cancer research and are leaders in innovation and medical education. It is a special place, and I love that everyone plays an important role in our common goal of excellence in patient care. It feels like a family, and I have enjoyed creating connections throughout the hospital.
Q: What does this new role mean to you?
Kamran: This role has many meanings to me—too many to list in a paragraph. But for now, I would say the following: I had the opportunity to meet with DE&I leaders at different radiation oncology departments at the ASTRO 2022 Annual Meeting. It was inspiring to learn about various efforts and observe the growing awareness surrounding the importance of DE&I to our field. With this new role, I am proud that our department has joined others nationally to continue our current DE&I efforts and create a sense of belonging for all.
Q: You are part of the genitourinary (GU) team. What DE&I issues do you see in your patient population, and what changes do you hope to see to create change?
Kamran: One striking and worrisome issue is that Black men are disproportionately diagnosed with more aggressive prostate cancer and have higher rates of death from prostate cancer than other races and ethnicities. There are many reasons for disparity, from the lack of Black men in the healthcare workforce (leading to mistrust) to the lack of diversity in clinical trials, research and precision oncology studies, as well as various changes to screening guidelines that have left Black men behind. Thankfully, this is being recognized with urgency, and many organizations, stakeholders, healthcare providers, and researchers are now leading efforts to further understand this disparity and create solutions to correct it.
I am proud to partner with the Mass General Cancer Center Equity Council and work with the Prostate Health Education Network to go out into the community to educate people about prostate cancer, the importance of PSA screening, how to talk to doctors about prostate health, and more. There are other ongoing efforts to bring prostate cancer awareness into the community, including an MGB United Against Racism Prostate Cancer Outreach Clinic that I am excited to work with. I hope continued awareness and ongoing community outreach can slowly move the needle toward reducing this disparity.
Q: You had a paper published in the NEJM for your analysis of U.S. medical faculty diversity. What inspired you to investigate that specific topic, and what was working on that project like?
Kamran: As an underrepresented minority (Latina), and the first in my family to attend college (and therefore medical school), I had always noticed that most of my medical school lecturers, clinical educators, role models, and those in leadership didn't look like me or come from a similar background. This observation continued throughout training, so I was curious about the trends in U.S. medical faculty diversity over time. Academic medical faculty are critical for training future generations of physicians to care for our increasingly diverse patient population and play important roles in healthcare by having a "seat at the table" in clinical guidelines committees, design of clinical trials, and curricula development, and can help shape the healthcare field.
I felt it was important to understand the past and present trends in academic medical faculty diversity. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project published in the NEJM as I had an opportunity to connect with other leaders in DE&I research. It was fascinating to dig into the data, noting stagnated growth of diverse faculty at different positions/levels over time. It is clear that more purposeful efforts are needed to improve diversity at all levels of academic medicine.
Q: Are you working on any other diversity research?
Kamran: I have several ongoing projects and am excited to embark on new opportunities. I have been looking at the composition of educational/scientific invited panelists at large oncology meetings (e.g., ASTRO, ASCO) to evaluate the diversity of panelists and chairs/moderators.
Separately, I have been evaluating the composition of the ASTRO guideline task forces. Given the importance and influence of these guidelines on the radiation oncology community and associated communities, including patients, caregivers, providers, and health systems, task force participant selection and overall composition are critical.
Finally, I have several ongoing projects on understanding and improving the diversity of precision oncology. It is known that precision medicine has revolutionized oncology in the past two decades and is expected to continue to transform cancer management moving forward. However, much of our understanding of precision oncology comes from cancer clinical trials—which are already known to struggle with diverse enrollment)—and many of the current large databases that are built to accelerate progress in precision oncology do not adequately represent diverse individuals. Therefore, many studies conducted to discover of novel mutations in underrepresented individuals or other races/ethnicities are inherently flawed, given the vast overrepresentation of white individuals in these databases. In addition, it is unknown whether it is viable or safe to use the knowledge surrounding tumor biomarkers, which are derived from those of European ancestry, or whether this knowledge can be applied to those from non-European ancestries. These further drive inequities among minority populations, as they are excluded from precision oncology practice.
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