Changing Times: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Southeastern Section of the AUA

By: S. Duke Herrell III, MD; Chad W. M. Ritenour, MD | Posted on: 01 Apr 2022

Over the past several years, the societal work around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become both more prominent and more significant. While this work touches the practice of medicine, including urology, there still remain opportunities for truly understanding the meaning and importance of DEI. The Southeastern Section of the AUA (SESAUA) is committed to weaving DEI into all of the activities of the Section. The Section represents the AUA subgeographical area with some of the greatest diversity in the organization. This diversity encompasses our members and the patients we serve, and it is a great strength.

The SESAUA and its Executive Committee have increasingly sought to promote and understand the important role of DEI among its membership, leadership and governance, with further upcoming plans to enact positive change. Most importantly, we have been intentional and deliberate in working to establish a welcoming atmosphere that extends from trainees to long-standing members, but we also recognize that there is still more work to do. As one example, the Section has directly engaged colleagues within our area outside the mainland United States to make our activities more accessible to and inclusive of them. Other initiatives include ensuring active diversity across meeting activities, the W. Bedford Waters memorial lecture and focused leadership, including a new Committee on DEI.

Over the past decade, the SESAUA made a dedicated effort to include and encourage meeting attendance by our fellow urologists from Panama and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We have also worked to specifically support our members in Puerto Rico. Indeed, when Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean suffered catastrophic damage after Hurricane Maria in 2017, the SESAUA temporarily set aside standard meeting attendance fees to encourage participation by the urologists affected and looked for other ways to help. Last year, we were honored to have had our first SESAUA President from Puerto Rico and the first of Hispanic descent, Dr. Ricardo Sanchez-Ortiz, and we are pleased to hold the 2022 Annual Meeting in San Juan. We will continue to promote inclusion of these colleagues who add richness to our Section through their talent, experience and cultural diversity.

“As the largest AUA Section, the SESAUA recognizes its duty to support the changing demographic of practicing urologists and society in general.”

As the largest AUA Section, the SESAUA recognizes its duty to support the changing demographic of practicing urologists and society in general. With the rise in numbers of women in urology, the Section has been intentional to improve its opportunities for our female members and trainees through individual promotion, development and inclusive leadership. Our membership includes many of urology’s “rising stars” and, of course, a growing number of these are women as the gender distribution of the field changes. The number of female presenters and moderators at our meetings likewise continues to increase, and talented woman leaders have delivered an increasing number of the major lectureships. We are proud of our Treasurer, Dr. Lorie Fleck, who is the first woman in the Section to hold that office, and additionally proud of her many accomplishments to support other women in urology as well as trainees. Recognizing that diversity can be measured in many ways, we are also evaluating and including meeting content to ensure it remains relevant to the variety of patients seen in practice. For example, recent topics relating to adult patients with congenital disorders, health equity and transgender medicine illustrate the need to understand unique perspectives in order to optimize care.

Perhaps the importance of DEI in the SESAUA is highlighted best with the creation of the annual W. Bedford Waters memorial lecture following the death of Dr. Waters in 2019. He was a beloved member of the SESAUA and a national leader in Urology, including serving as the first African American President of the American Board of Urology and the inaugural Chair of a newly established Department of Urology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Dr. Waters was known for breaking barriers, and he received the AUA Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions as a urologic oncologist, mentor and educator. His strength, skill, tenacity and intelligence developed as he overcame the obstacles and prejudices of the South in the 1950–1960s. Moreover, his ability to truly connect with everyone as a person was masterful. The first honorary W. Bedford Waters lecture was appropriately titled “The Critical Pursuit of Social Justice in Urology” and delivered by his dear friend, Dr. Mark Litwin. We look forward to honoring Dr. Waters’ legacy in the SESAUA each year as one way to underscore the critical importance of DEI for our peers, patients and society.

“Recognizing that diversity can be measured in many ways, we are also evaluating and including meeting content to ensure it remains relevant to the variety of patients seen in practice.”

At its last meeting, the SESAUA Executive Committee approved plans to establish a permanent Committee on DEI, with a full proposal to be presented to the Board of Directors at the spring meeting. The Committee will represent a cross-section of membership and will report directly to the Board of the Section. The goal of this group is to create inclusive opportunities as well as understand the roles of the Section members, leadership and management in expanding efforts in DEI. The ability to examine program schedules, Committee assignments and award nominations along with other activities through a DEI lens will provide powerful insights. We also envision alignment of this Committee with the national task force established by the AUA in order to support work across all levels.

The efforts of DEI involve appreciating the perspectives of those who are different than us, learning from and including those perspectives in our activities, and striving for equitable opportunities and outcomes. The SESAUA has a rich history in urology but is also committed to creating and maintaining a welcoming environment for all of its constituents in the future.

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