ASCO president aims to shed light on cancer care inequities
As ASCO president, Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, has strived to promote equity of care in the field of oncology.
Pierce — director of the Michigan Radiation Oncology Quality Consortium and radiation oncologist, professor and vice provost for academic and faculty affairs at University of Michigan — has been an ASCO member since 1992. She began her term as 2020-2021 ASCO president in June after serving as president-elect for 1 year.
Pierce has served as senior investigator at the NCI and NIH and has focused her career on breast cancer treatment.
She spoke with Healio about how her background has helped her prepare for the presidency and advice she would give other women in the profession who are considering taking on this role.
Healio: What excites you most about the opportunity you have as ASCO president?
Pierce: As ASCO president, I have the ability to move an agenda forward and the infrastructure within ASCO to do so on a national and international level. My presidential theme is equity of care, which is at the heart of what ASCO does for its members, and it is so important. ASCO had laid so much of the groundwork for equity, and we have been adding additional initiatives to it.
Healio: How did your background help you prepare for the role of ASCO president?
Pierce: For the past 10 to 15 years, I have been vice provost for faculty affairs at University of Michigan, one of the largest academic institutions and research universities in the world. Having that experience, in terms of administration and being able to deal with issues on a large scale, has worked quite well for me as ASCO president. I also am director of a radiation oncology quality consortium in Michigan that is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield. The focus is to improve quality of care for patients with cancer who receive radiation in the state, with an emphasis on cost-efficient care. In that role, we have developed treatment algorithms and best practices with metrics for accountability so there is uniformity in treatment and better care. This has been quite helpful to me in preparing for the role of ASCO president, especially in terms of my theme of equity of care.
Healio: What do you consider the greatest challenge in cancer care, and how can ASCO help meet that challenge?
Pierce: Access and equity of care are huge challenges in cancer care. When we look at outcomes for a lot of metrics, including cancer, we see disparate outcomes in certain populations in the U.S. and other countries. There are many things that we as oncologists and as a society can do to address these challenges. ASCO cannot do it all, so we must be strategic and develop partnerships. Being strategic in the way that we do things is important because we can tell the stories of our patients. These are real people we can represent to help create laws to improve patient access to and equity of care.
Healio: How has COVID-19 influenced your presidency?
Pierce: The one thing that made 2020 an exceptional year in a positive way is because of the pandemic, the theme of equity is even more compelling. There is no question that the pandemic has made inequities of health care blatant. People for whom it did not hit home before now realize the importance of equity of care.
Healio: What advice would you give to women in the profession who are considering taking on this role?
Pierce: There is a lot they could and should do. One needs to be an active ASCO member — submit abstracts, make your interests known and participate in ASCO committees. So much happens at the committee level. Be active in your state societies and be a leader in your practice, whether it is in the community or in academics. Also, seek mentors who are leaders at ASCO. The society has a wonderful networking infrastructure set up for women in oncology. In-person annual meetings feature a network lounge and sessions that cover various topics in which women can engage with other women and have meaningful conversations.
For more information:
Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.