September 17, 2019
4 min read

Q&A: Supporting diversity, inclusion in the infectious disease field

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The Infectious Diseases Society of America recently developed and published a supplement in The Journal of Infectious Diseases containing eight articles on the subjects of inclusion, diversity, access and equity within the field of infectious diseases that were written by IDSA members and individuals outside of the field.

Infectious Disease News spoke with IDSA president Cynthia L. Sears, MD, FIDSA, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, about the inspiration for the supplement and its potential impact. – by Marley Ghizzone

Q: What inspired the supplement?

A: About 2 years ago, when Bill Powderly was president of IDSA, he initiated a governance review of IDSA. This was a year-long process and one, we realized, the society hadn’t engaged in for 25 years. As part of that process, it was recognized that we needed to work harder at inclusion, diversity, access and equity to embrace the diversity in many different aspects within the ID field. This is important to representation within the society and within the leadership and governance of the society. Since that time, there has been continual work being done and we anticipate that this effort to embrace and put into action these ideals will be ongoing. An early step was to create the Inclusion, Diversity, Access & Equity (IDA&E) Task Force, which is being led by IDSA Board of Directors (BOD) member, Tina Tan. Development of this supplement, with the support of the IDSA BOD, was an additional step that enabled the authors and the co-editors to further bring the ideas and principles of IDA&E to the membership and beyond. This initial supplement is broad-ranging, and now we’re working on ideas for a supplement for next year that we expect to provide information in additional areas of IDA&E. I think you can expect, at least, periodic updates from the society, taking on additional specific topics as the IDA&E effort evolves for IDSA.

Q: How were the issues and authors chosen?

A: Group discussion. The best ideas come when you get a diverse group of people in the room and they bat around ideas and think about what we want to accomplish. That’s exactly how this was developed. We spoke with the IDA&E Task Force; we spoke with the IDSA BOD; we talked with people knowledgeable about IDA&E within the society and outside the society, and then tried to put together a series of appropriate topics and authors.


Q: What key areas or ideas are addressed in the articles?

A: There are eight articles in the supplement. The introduction outlines some helpful information about the society to provide a perspective on our membership and areas in which we need more information. Tina Tan outlines the principles of IDA&E, the meaning of each of the terms. Talia Swartz and colleagues present the science of IDA&E — what is known and what are the gaps? David Hardy, the current Chair of the HIV Medicine Association, and Raul Macias Gil look at how, in part, the HIV epidemic influenced infectious diseases and our idea of what diversity really meant to our field. Jasmine Marcelin and colleagues write about how we can support IDA&E within the ID workforce, and explore the concept of unconscious bias, which is probably one of our greatest obstacles and one that each of us has difficulty recognizing within ourselves. We each have a certain level of unconscious bias, and each of us needs to be attuned to this. Damani Piggott and Liza Cariaga-Lo provide a perspective about how institutions can implement IDA&E and how each of us can help. Bill Powderly relates the IDSA governance review process and how this led to IDSA’s commitment to IDA&E as critical to the future of the society. Vernetta Walker lays out the path forward to development and implementation of IDA&E within IDSA. This year at IDWeek, the BOD will also have the opportunity to review the road map developed by the IDA&E Task Force to further guide the society forward.

Q: What do you hope clinicians will learn by reading them?

A: Our main goals are to enhance awareness and to educate. I think the area of unconscious bias is very impactful for each of us no matter where we work within the field of ID. We hope to raise awareness, start a big conversation and make people reflect.

Q: Can committing to a more diverse workforce improve patient care?

A: I believe so. There are data in other fields indicating that interactions between physicians and patients of the same race are more open and honest than interactions between races. I believe these obstacles can be overcome, but each of us needs to learn to communicate in a way that helps our patients respond positively to us as providers because provider-patient teamwork will improve their health care. I really believe this is critical to our patients.


Gil RM, Hardy WG. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz242.

Marcelin JR, et al. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz214.

Marcelin JR, et al. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz213.

Piggott DA, Cariaga-Lo L. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz186.

Powderly WG. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz197.

Sears CL, et al. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz125.

Swartz TH, et al. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz174.

Tan TQ. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz198.

Walker V. J Infect Dis. 2019;doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz175.

Disclosures: Sears is the president of IDSA. Please see the individual articles for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.