Improving diversity in cardiology starts with empathy, U of Arizona's heart program director says

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Nancy Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center and chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona Health Services in Tucson, discussed the importance of understanding diversity and disparities in cardiovascular disciplines during a recent episode of the Becker's Healthcare cardiology podcast.

Here is an excerpt from the podcast. Click here to download the full episode.

Editor's note: This response was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: can you share three pieces of advice for emerging physician leaders today? 

Dr. Nancy Sweitzer: I'm a female cardiologist, which is a very underrepresented demographic. Cardiology has been really quite poor at improving diversity in our workforce. I have spent a lot of time in the last year educating myself about the issues around diversity and realize that it's not about trying to understand diversity from where you sit, but about putting yourself into the lived experience of others and trying to understand that. I think what started this for me was The New York Times' 1619 project and really understanding the implications of systemic racism and how they're built into our society. And then starting to think about how I can understand the lived experience of my underrepresented faculty and start to change the culture around that. If you're an emerging leader, you have to pay attention — particularly in cardiovascular disciplines — to the issues of discrimination and disparities in our profession. 

The second piece of advice I would say is that you need to learn how as a leader to align your agenda with the agenda of those who are important to collaborate with. I see a lot of young leaders trying to push something through that is not at least crafted in a way that engages their partners that they need to work with. You may not be able to move your agenda forward as you initially envisioned it, but you can find those win-wins and make progress on your agenda. 

I think that networking and sponsorship and mentorship have been talked about a lot. You need to build your network as a leader, and as you move into leadership, your network changes. If you become the leader, then the direct reports who previously were your peers and your friends are less friendly because now you have a power relationship with them, and it changes your network. And so it's important as you ascend in a leadership track to mature your network in concert with your career and find your new peer mentors and sponsors at each stage of your career. It took me a little time to learn that. I went back to my old network, and it didn't work the same way. You need a new network at each stage of your career. 

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