Introducing the Underrepresented Minorities Section
In 2020, SIR created the Underrepresented Minorities (URM) Section for members interested in the advancing IR within underrepresented minority communities.
Derek West, MD, MS
“Hopefully, our efforts will lead us to a day when patients and physician colleagues alike are not startled to see a Black interventional radiologist walk into the room; a day when Black women suffering from fibroids are given all of their options, no longer needing to rely on life-altering recommendations based in unconscious biases; and, most importantly, a day when it is not uncommon for Black children to live next door to an IR who looks just like them,” says Keith M. Horton MD, FSIR, one of the section co-chairs.
IR Quarterly recently spoke with section co-chair Derek L. West, MD, MS, about the section’s development, its mission and the impact of representation.
Can you tell us about how the URM Section came about?
The URM in IR Section is an idea that’s been a long time coming. To understand where it came from is to understand a larger problem that’s not unique to IR or medicine, which is the need to increase the amount of representation of the vast diversity in our country. As both a resident and an attending IR, I’ve often felt this need must be addressed in our specialty. When I first joined SIR, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me. I didn’t even know how to find them, and if I encountered another URM, it was like waving across a crowd.
In more recent years, SIR has been working toward equity and representation, such as with the creation of the Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) Advisory Group. I appreciated the efforts being made, but there was a lack of direct representation for URMs within the committee. This was concerning and frustrating, and eventually I and other URMs connected with leadership to develop this new section.
Who is eligible to be a member?
Everyone. You don’t have to be a URM to be interested in furthering diversity in the field. And as for URMs themselves, this section isn’t just for Black or Latinx IRs. We will be talking about all kind of underrepresented issues—such as immigration into IR from other countries.
What was the blueprint for creating the section?
We’ve looked a lot at the SIR Women in IR (SIR) Section and their structure. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I know that creating the WIR Section was a lot of work, but it’s already paying off. We’ve had more women in leadership positions and more women are joining the specialty, and there is now a louder and stronger voice to speak for them and support these members. They’ve been a huge inspiration and ally as we get this section off the ground.
What will the section priorities and mission look like?
There are three main areas we aim to focus on:
Resources for URMs in IR: Just knowing who your peers are is incredibly important, so we’ll provide a social aspect and a platform for URMs to gather and address issues that impact us. We will be providing education, but also a community.
Mentorship: I joined IR because I had mentors who believed in me, such as my co-chair Keith Horton. As a young IR, I needed to see that someone who looked like me could be comfortable and accepted in this specialty, and Dr. Horton showed me this was possible. This is why mentorship at every level is important, as well as mentorship that represents the varied ways to be an IR—from private practice to academia to those in combined IR/DR practices. We want to give people an opportunity to find mentorship within their sphere.
Health care disparities: This issue is not unique to IR. It reflects a larger problem in medicine and society, which is that if you don’t have a voice, you’re unheard. This exists clearly in IR in ways we may not think of. We do a lot of dialysis work with patients of color, and UFE work with women and women of color. But when we talk about therapies like Y-90, people of color and those without wealth are not receiving this treatment. So your identity is impacting the level of health care you’re receiving. Thinking of disparities in this way makes it clear that this isn’t just a medicine problem—it’s a moral issue of figuring out how everyone gets an equal chance to live. The URM Section offers an opportunity to introduce this question and engage IRs in finding the answer.
Other areas of focus will likely arise. URMs are diverse, which means that there are a lot of people with different views and experiences, so while we’re all following the same moral compass, different members will be passionate about different parts of our mission. So we’re encouraging members to get involved and help us identify what interests them and help us fold those interests into our mission.
What does ideal representation look like?
Not many URMs hold significant leadership roles in SIR—something we want to change. We want to be careful that we don’t push for URM-specific roles, like vice chair of diversity. Too often, in the pursuit of diversity, institutions will create a box to check, where any URM can be exchanged for another. Taking on a D&I-specific role in addition to other leadership roles becomes a burden. URMS are more than their background, and we can speak on so many things that aren’t related to diversity. We can bring talent and drive to any position.
Obviously, we want to have leaders who can speak for and about URM issues, but we want it to go further. We want to support and elevate URMs to work within the structure at all levels. I’d love to see a URM as president of SIR.
What does early membership look like?
We’re still pushing for members, and recruitment is a slow build. People will want to see what we are and what our mission is. It will also take time for individuals who may have felt like SIR doesn’t represent them to see us and our impact.
That said, I’m very pleased with the membership we have so far. A number of residents and early career IRs have joined, which has painted a picture for me of the kind of change that’s already happening. It’s demonstrated that there is a real desire and hunger within the specialty for equity. And many of these members are deeply involved across the society, which is even better, because it means that our members can communicate with each other and represent our mission across the specialty.
Are there landmarks or thresholds of success for the URM Section?
There will certainly be points where we can say that we’ve had a win and we’ve reached a new milestone. I’m not the owner of the URM Section, and my goals may be different from what will ultimately become most important to this section. But for me, diversity in healthcare is of the utmost importance. Not just increasing the number of URM physicians, but also looking at our patient populations and shifting into a truly clinical role where we don’t just treat the dialysis or fibroids or prostate cancer but become advocates for the communities impacted by them and help prevent the disease. The closer we get to this goal, and anything that the URM Section can do to aid it, will be a success in my eyes.
Members interested in joining the URM Section can find more information at bit.ly/SIR-URM.