There is no doubt that diversity breeds creativity and innovation. Numerous studies have demonstrated that diverse demographic representation in medicine is associated with multiple benefits. These include better healthcare access for underserved communities, cultural intelligence amongst physicians, and designed medical research across various patient populations.1 Nevertheless, minority groups, integral to foster diversity in medicine and industry, are underrepresented (Figure 1A). The American Society of Clinical Oncology® (ASCO) Strategic Plan for Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Oncology Workforce report found that only 2% of the oncology physician workforce is Black/African American, and 3% is Hispanic/Latino.2 These figures are much less than their representation in the overall population (Figure 1B). In addition, the proportion of oncology fellows who are Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino is consistently lower than many other ethnic groups with subspecialties in internal medicine.2
Imbalances in racial/ethnic representation are not limited to those working in medicine; the pharmaceutical industry also suffers when there is a lack of diversity. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce enables pharmaceutical companies to better understand the needs of different patient populations. This is especially important in the recruitment of a diverse pool of patients when studying innovative medical approaches as part of clinical trial programs. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos comprise less than 10%, 14%, and 11%, respectively, of the U.S. pharmaceutical workforce.3 As Jaya Aysola, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Equity Advancement, stated in a recent interview: “The truth of the matter is that we need a diverse medical workforce, not just at the frontlines, but also among those generating the science of tomorrow and generating the systems in which we deliver care.”4
In response to the need to address diversity and health equity, Taiho Oncology Inc. launched its Taiho Cares- Diversity Breeds Innovation Initiative in 2020 (Figure 2). The overall objective of this initiative is to partner with academia, patient advocacy groups, and other organizations that advocate for racial and health equity. One of the areas of focus is to support the growth of minority talent in academia and industry. Collaborative partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) present a great opportunity to achieve this goal.
Across the U.S., there are 101 HBCUs with more than 291000 students enrolled nationally.5 Although HBCUs were originally founded to provide higher education opportunities for Black Students, they enroll students irrespective of their ethnicity, race, or income level. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, non-black enrolment in 2018 was 24% — up from 15% in 1976.6 In this article, we describe Taiho Oncology, Inc’s partnership with HBCUs to create a program for students interested in healthcare careers. The program includes complimentary medical conference registration, networking with professionals in the pharmaceutical industry, and an opportunity to build professional presentation skills.
Taiho Oncology, Inc’s Complimentary Conference Registration Project
One way of increasing the diversity of talent in oncology medical practice and within the pharmaceutical industry is to increase students’ exposure to oncology prior to graduation. Attending medical congresses provides an opportunity for students to understand oncology and to develop an interest in the field. However, the cost of attending these meetings can be prohibitive for many students. As a result of purchases of advertising or booth space, Taiho Oncology, Inc may receive complimentary registrations for medical conferences. Traditionally, we have used these complimentary registrations for our own employees. However, recently, Taiho Oncology, Inc developed a program in partnership with HBCUs to provide complimentary meeting registrations to college students. This project was developed in consultation with the Compliance and Legal Departments and is administered by the Taiho Oncology, Inc MSL team. We are sure this is an initiative other companies could also implement to support minority talent in oncology. Thus far, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have only implemented the project at virtual conferences, but the process could be modified for live conferences in the future.
To kick off the project, we formed a small working group of MSLs to manage logistics and outreach. For each medical congress that Taiho Oncology, Inc purchases advertising or booth space, the project lead identifies how many complimentary registrations we have available for college students. Then, the MSL working group prepares a list of HBCUs to approach. Taiho Oncology, Inc has specifically chosen to focus on students in health, science, or related degree programs who are not licensed, healthcare providers. However, these criteria can be modified to suit an individual company’s preferences. Additionally, we recommend seeking the input of your Compliance Department as you develop your initiative as offering complimentary conference registration is considered a transfer of value to the student.
Once HBCUs are identified for potential participation in our conference program, the working group of MSLs begins their outreach. We have found that it is best to contact professors, deans, faculty administrators, and dean’s assistants at the HBCU degree programs of interest. The MSLs explain the conference program to these faculty members and ask them to choose which students in their program should receive the complimentary conference registrations. Once we receive a list of students from the HBCU, Taiho Oncology, Inc welcomes them into the program via a virtual one-hour welcome session a few days prior to the start of the conference. In this meeting, we review the conference agenda and demonstrate how to find sessions of interest. Additionally, our Human Resources Department joins to give the students a presentation on the structure of a pharmaceutical company, including different functional areas and potential fellowship opportunities. After the welcome session, each HBCU student is assigned an MSL Guide who reaches out periodically throughout the conference to answer any questions the student has or to provide them with any assistance they may need in navigating the virtual conference. After the conference, students are given the opportunity to create a short, ten-minute PowerPoint presentation summarizing a session they attended. Students present their summary to the Medical Affairs team at Taiho Oncology, Inc including senior leadership. Finally, students are also invited to an optional closing session on careers in the pharmaceutical industry (Figure 3). All of these activities provide development, mentorship, and networking opportunities to the students.
Networking and Education around Industry Careers
Taiho Oncology, Inc did not want the opportunity for student development, growth, and mentoring to end with attending conferences. We reviewed the feedback and demographics from the students who took part in the complimentary conference registration program and found that a majority of the students participating in the program were PharmD students in their penultimate year of graduate school. These students would soon begin their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experientials and were extremely interested in learning more about the pharmaceutical industry and fellowship opportunities. In response to this interest, the MSL team developed an informational session for students to learn more about career paths in the industry. It included insights and tips on expanding professional networks, creating an effective resume/ curriculum vitae, and preparing for interviews. The panel consisted of experienced industry professionals who could relate to the students and help them to gain some perspective as they thought about their own futures. This session was well received by the students, and although it was not originally part of our plan, due to its success it will now become a regular feature in our conference registration program planning.
Building a Diverse Talent Pool
One potential advantage of developing a program, like the one described in this article, is that the company implementing the program may be able to increase the diversity of their talent pool by exposing more students of diverse backgrounds to the company. For Taiho Oncology Inc, many of the student participants were unfamiliar with our company and did not know we offered fellowships prior to the conference registration program. Additionally, developing a conference registration program like the one described here can widen the scope of a company’s outreach and visibility to colleges away from key pharmaceutical hubs, such as the New Jersey/New York City and Boston areas in the Northeast, and Bay Area in the West. By reaching out to colleges in other parts of the country that do not have the advantage of being geographically close to these pharmaceutical industry hubs, we can be proactive in making the candidate pool for open roles more diverse.
Tips and Lessons for Other MSL Teams
MSLs as a field team can sometimes feel excluded from large corporate initiatives that may predominantly focus on office-based employees, and company initiatives related to diversity and health equality are no exception. However, we believe that the onus is on each of us as individuals, regardless of where we are located, to step up and make a difference when it comes to health equity. The project described in this article can be almost exclusively executed by a field team. You do not need a large team; a small group of dedicated individuals can execute the project and create a large impact. However, your team will need to gain leadership buy-in to get started. We recommend gaining their buy-in along with your Compliance Department, early on, to ensure the project runs smoothly.
When starting a similar initiative, you will need to identify your target student population to receive the conference registrations. Although this article describes a process for working with college students at HBCUs, you can tailor your program to fit your company’s interests. For example, rather than HBCUs, you could focus on colleges with a high percentage of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. You could also investigate other colleges or programs that would increase your reach to underrepresented groups in medicine (Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and mainland Puerto Ricans).
For MSL teams wishing to launch a similar initiative, we recommend you start early. We have found that every step in the process seems to take longer than might be anticipated initially. As mentioned above, it is critical to get the Compliance Department involved to review your program idea. Your Compliance Department may also want to review the emails you send out to faculty members about the program or other materials. These reviews take time, so you must plan accordingly. Additionally, it may take you longer than you think to find students for all of your complimentary registrations. Not every faculty member you reach out to is going to respond, so you may have to reach out to more colleges or multiple degree programs within the same college to identify appropriate recipients for all of your available registrations.
We believe that a field Medical Affairs team is ideal to lead this type of initiative because it utilizes the same relationship-building skills that MSLs use with their Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) on a regular basis. You will want to manage the relationships you build with faculty members for this project, much like a KOL relationship. Ultimately, you are hoping to return to the same faculty member, again and again, asking for new students to receive complimentary conference registrations. This is a health equity initiative that can easily be carried out for years if the appropriate network is built and relationships are maintained. This will increase your company’s visibility with up-and-coming talent from all regions of the country, which can be used as a good leverage point when pitching the idea to your senior leadership teams.
In summary, we describe a health equity initiative that involves a partnership with HBCUs to provide complimentary conference registrations to students interested in health and science. The program provides participants with networking opportunities with professionals in the pharmaceutical industry and with healthcare professionals/researchers presenting data at congresses, the option to practice presentation skills, and access to a career panel to answer their questions about transitioning from education to professional employment. Ultimately, we hope that a program like this will further student interest in science and medicine and encourage students to consider careers in oncology and the pharmaceutical industry, where underrepresentation remains a problem. For companies interested in starting a similar initiative, we recommend consulting with your Compliance Department to establish eligibility criteria and a project workflow. We also recommend leveraging the expertise of MSL field teams who are skilled at building relationships with KOLs and can use those skills to build relationships with HBCU faculty members to identify students who are eligible for the program. A small group of dedicated individuals can tackle this initiative and take some steps to address the recognized lack of diversity within medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Ultimately, small positive steps can lead to progress with a big impact on the future.
The authors wish to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of the Taiho Oncology, Inc field medical team to this initiative. From guiding students through the conferences to participating in the career panels, we could not have executed this initiative without the support of our entire team. We also want to acknowledge the Manager of Strategic Planning in Medical Affairs who helped coordinate the logistics and administrative details of our program. Thank you!
- Lett LA, Murdoch HM, Orji WU, et al. Trends in Racial/Ethnic Representation Among US Medical Students. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(9):e1910490.
- Cavallo J. The ASCO Post. Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Oncology Workforce. https://ascopost.com/issues/october-10-2017/increasing-racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-the-oncology-workforce/. Accessed on February 5, 2021.
- Challener, CA. pharma’s almanac. Is the Pharma Industry Developing Cultural Intelligence? https://www.pharmasalmanac.com/articles/is-the-pharma-industry-developing-cultural-intelligence. Accessed on February 5, 2021.
- Cheney C. HealthLeaders. Medical Schools Failing to Increase Representation of Minority Groups. https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/clinical-care/medical-schools-failing-increase-representation-minority-groups. Accessed on February 5, 2021.
- Bunn, C. Enrollment declines threaten future of HBCUs, disheartening alumni. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/enrollment-declines-threaten-future-hbcus-disheartening-alumni-n1158191. Accessed on February 5, 2021.
- The Institute of Education Science, National Center for Education Statistics. Fast Facts: Historically Black Colleges and Universities. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=667. Accessed on February 5, 2021.
Christiane Carney, Ph.D.
Christiane Carney is currently a Medical Science Liaison at Taiho Oncology Inc. She has over 5 years of medical affairs experience in both oncology and women’s healthcare. Christiane serves on the Advisory Board of the Medical Science Liaison Society and is passionate about coaching and mentoring new MSLs. Prior to her work in the industry, Christiane received her PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University.
Tefe Iwudibia, MPharm, MPhil
Tefe Iwudibia is currently a Medical Science Liaison with Taiho Oncology Inc. She has held various roles within Medical Affairs over the last 10 years. She graduated with a Pharmacy degree from the University College London, UK, and has a master’s degree in biotechnology from the University of Cambridge, UK.
Christopher Varghese, PharmD
Christopher is a Medical Science Liaison at Taiho Oncology Inc. Chris has a passion for teaching and bringing together bright minds. He has received his PharmD from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and completed a postdoc fellowship in conjunction with Rutgers University.