6 minute read

A Focus on Equity

As the pandemic raged on, our nation faced another crisis sparked by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The recognition of disparities of outcomes in COVID-19 for communities of color, and the epidemic of structural racism in American society and healthcare underlying those disparities, led CMSS members to issue statements condemning racism in healthcare and committing to using our platforms to fight racism and advance equity and inclusion in our member societies and in medicine more broadly.

Specialty societies have supported critically needed dialogues, including important conversations about racism encountered by Black physicians, while considering how they as societies can actively work to remove barriers to equitable advancement in specialty-society leadership and in healthcare at large.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, CMSS issued a definitive statement on, and commitment to, promoting equity and addressing racism in our society. This statement was also adopted by many of our member organizations:

“With more than 800,000 physicians across 45 specialties, the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (CMSS) deplores the negative impact of racism in our nation and of racial inequities in our healthcare system…We are committed to using our platform to improve the health of every patient we serve.”

But we recognized that statements alone are not enough. So we took action along with our medical-society partners and established measurable goals for diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism that will remain a priority for years to come.

CMSS DEI Priorities

• Develop innovative programs across the full pathway to support greater engagement, inclusion, mentorship of students, residents, fellows, and physicians who are underrepresented in medicine.

• Support engagement, inclusion, and mentorship of underrepresented in medicine students, residents, fellows, and physicians.

• Increase diversity, inclusion, and engagement of those underrepresented in medicine, women, LGBTQ, and younger physicians into specialty society leadership.

• Develop an anti-racism collaborative across societies to identify effective strategies to counter structural racism in healthcare and the medical profession.


Many of our member societies had already been leading efforts focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), while others were just beginning. We wanted to share the excellent resources that were being used by our members with a broader audience, and our DEI PPG was front and center in providing a forum for societies to learn from one another what has been successful in those efforts and what has not. The PPG includes more than 60 society DEI leaders who have been meeting monthly, working together on projects like gathering and recommending best practices in collection and use of member demographic data. Their work will be vital to the success of CMSS’s efforts and those of our members to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare.


We joined with the Organization of Program Director Associations (OPDA), a convened group of CMSS, to take a stand against inherent bias in medical education and training. OPDA’s statement and call to action, released in February 2021, read in part:

We condemn racism and discrimination, and challenge training programs and healthcare systems to evaluate their educational frameworks, policies, and hierarchy in order to improve equity for all.


In the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021, CMSS conducted two virtual meetings focused on equity and anti-racism—representing the start of important work that will continue to be a priority for us.

The Fall 2020 Special Session on Racism in Medicine with Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, and Patricia Turner, MD, MBA, FACS, brought together more than 200 participants representing society staff and volunteer leadership. Together we learned about the history of racism in medicine and began an important conversation about what we all must do to make change. The word cloud at right shows how individual attendees felt after the session and the motivations they shared for continuing the critical anti-racist work toward equity in medicine.

The Spring 2021 CMSS Leadership Summit on Equity and Anti-Racism built on the fall session and provided actionable information and collaborative opportunities to drive sustained improvement in DEI and to confront racism in medicine. More than 350 people including representatives of physician leadership organizations for underrepresented communities like the National Medical Association (NMA), National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians (NCAPIP), and the Alliance for Multicultural Physicians attended.


CMSS and our member societies continue to make equity a focus. In July 2021, CMSS established a collaborative DEI & Anti-Racism initiative for physicians and medical leadership, in partnership with ACGME Equity MattersTM. Together, we convened two Learning Communities comprised of volunteer leaders and senior staff from CMSS and ODPA member societies. Thirty-eight societies and program director associations are participating in the inaugural 18-month engagement cycle of continuous learning and process improvement that supports DEI and anti-racism.

The program offers a phased curriculum, tools, and skills training which provide lessons to help drive implementation of innovative interventions, practices, policies, and data strategies that support DEI and anti-racism. Participation includes viewing of over 30 educational modules, monthly learning community sessions with expert faculty and guided facilitators, and development of a capstone project which will drive policy and practice changes.

Margot Savoy, MD, MPH, FAAFP, SVP of Education at the American Academy of Family Physicians and an Equity Matters learning community participant noted that the sessions “give people some common ground to start from, that they are all starting in a similar space, having the same kind of challenges, and not really realizing it.” Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, CEO, American Society of Clinical Oncology, stated about the program: “What has been truly reassuring and comforting... is that the temperature [on these issues] feels much lower -- it feels depoliticized and more manageable. I’m certain this is the best way to do this work productively and collaboratively.” CMSS and the ACGME are committed to sharing learnings from this program with the broader medical community.

I love the way the groups got organized, where you can have intimate conversations with people who come from similar disciplines or similar experiences in their training as you.

Margot Savoy, MD, MPH, FAAFP, SVP of Education at the American Academy of Family Physicians and an Equity Matters learning community participant.