March 21, 2022

UCalgary researchers study gender and race equity in field of cardiology

Michelle Keir probes Canadian literature to see how widespread inequities are
Group of physicians

A team of University of Calgary researchers, led by Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) researcher Dr. Michelle Keir, MD, is tackling racial and gender inequities in the field of cardiology. The goal of the team is to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive environment for both patients and care providers.

“We talk about a lot about women’s cardiovascular health and the concerns faced by racialized patients with cardiac disease, but the elephant in the room is that the caregivers in the field of cardiology don’t reflect the patients,” says Keir.

Working to break down biases to create an environment where everyone, care providers and patients, feel safe and supported is important.

The team recently completed a review of the published literature on equity and diversity among cardiac physicians and summarized the challenges faced by women and racial-minority physicians in the field. Their findings were published in CJC Open

The project revealed that there is a lack of diversity within some editorial boards of medical journals in the field of cardiac sciences. Researchers suggest that this may allow bias to enter the editorial and review process. In the past two years, three major journals were forced to retract or apologize for peer-reviewed papers due to their inclusion of offensive material that perpetuated negative stereotypes.

Michelle Keir

Michelle Keir is the new equity, diversity, inclusion lead for the Department of Cardiac Sciences

The review also found that women cardiologists regularly face gender disparities in the field, reporting incidents of sexual harassment, delay in advancement, pregnancy discrimination and a persistent wage gap that make it difficult for them to pursue and thrive in a career in cardiology.

Keir thinks it’s time for change.

“Society is changing and becoming more aware of the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion,” she says.

“The evidence shows that while there may be societal change, the behaviours within the field of cardiology are not changing. We have to do better.”

Keir is part of the forward momentum to do better. She has a new position as equity, diversity and inclusion lead in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the CSM. The department recently began hosting implicit bias workshops as a practical way of improving the environment for all.

“Understanding the problem is the first step, and there is a wider recognition that this is a problem that needs to change,” says Keir. “We are lucky here in Calgary that we have a community in which we can discuss this and work towards real change.”

Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, who heads the Department of Cardiac Sciences, says Keir’s research, along with the equity and diversity initiatives taking place within the department, will help address long-standing inequities.

“In her publication, Dr. Keir proposes a new paradigm of professionalism for cardiac sciences. We need meaningful changes to improve workforce equity and we are committed to change,” says Fedak, co-author of the study. “We are encouraged by the strong support of senior leaders at the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services.”

The research team also included UCalgary researchers Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD, Dr. Sarah Weeks, MD, Dr. Michael Slawnych, MD, Dr. Scott McClure, MD, Dr. Vikas Kuriachan, MD, Dr. Carlos Morillo, MD, and Chanda McFadden, MSW, RSW, of the Department of Allied Health, Alberta Health Services.

Michelle Keir is an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM.

Paul Fedak is a professor and department head of cardiac sciences at the CSM. He is the director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.