Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Urology - Larissa Bresler

May 9, 2023

Larissa Bresler joins Samuel Washington to discuss the AUA Diversity and Inclusion Committee's objectives to increase diversity in urology and improve health outcomes for minorities. Dr. Bresler also discusses the Future Urology Talent from Underrepresented Entities (FUTURE) program, a mentorship program that targets students from underrepresented groups and invites them into the urologic community. Dr. Bresler and Dr. Washington emphasize how individuals in the urology space can support this work by mentoring students, leveraging departmental resources, and engaging with the community outside of urologists.


Larissa Bresler, MD, DABMA, Chief Diversity Officer, Diversity and Inclusion Chair, American Urological Association, Loyola University Medical Center, Hines, IL

Samuel L. Washington III, MD, MAS, Urologist, Goldberg-Benioff Endowed Professorship in Cancer Biology, University of California, San Francisco, CA

Read the Full Video Transcript

Samuel Washington: Hello, everyone. Dr. Samuel Washington here with UroToday. I have the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Larissa Bresler today on the heels of the AUA, but I wanted us to talk today about what the AUA Diversity and Inclusion Committee is doing currently and then moving forward in the future. So thank you, Dr. Bresler, for taking the time.

Larissa Bresler: And thank you so much, Dr. Washington, for inviting me and for UroToday. You've done amazing work so far. I've looked at your podcasts, and you are definitely helping, not just community of urologists, but also patients.

Samuel Washington: So for those who may not have been able to attend the plenary talk and highlighting some of the work that's going on, would you be able to give a brief summary of just how the Diversity and Inclusion Committee came about?

Larissa Bresler: Of course. As you know, as many members know, we had a diversity and inclusion task force, and the task force was led by Dr. Downs, and the vice chair was Dr. Thavaseelan, which is on my current committee. And they worked based on evidence and feedback from group of leaders and came up with number of recommendations, 14 initiatives. 13 out of 14 were approved by the board, the AUA Board of Directors. If anybody would like more granular, look at it. It's available. It was published in J Urology. Just look on the website, and you'll find it. And one of the recommendations, one of the task force recommendations, was to create a DEI committee and the position of chief diversity officer. And as many others, I have applied. The AUA Board of Directors Leadership Awards Committee reviewed credentials and chose me. And that's how that came about. And then we received tremendous number of applications, 54 for our committee. So it was wonderful because it showed I hope to all of us of how much our membership cares and invested in this, not just AUA Leadership and Committees, but our membership. And through rigorous vetting process, 13 members were selected based on section, their background, many different factors. So that's how the committee came about.

Samuel Washington: That sounds like a lot to go through, but there's so much enthusiasm. It's exciting. What would you say? Now that you have this group together, what are the main goals, kind of the mission that you're all working toward?

Larissa Bresler: I think our missions are completely in line with the AUA Diversity Statement. We are making intentional steps towards diversity. And that doesn't just include increasing representation in urology. That also includes working to improve health outcomes for minorities. And this includes work and collaboration with every AUA council on AUA committees, and this includes ABU as well and subspecialty societies. We reassure our urologic oncology college, as you know. I think the key to success in any of this is collaboration and working together and wisdom of the tribe, honestly.

Samuel Washington: Now there is so many moving parts to the AUA, and this is such an important mission. Do you anticipate any barriers or kind of hurdles that need to be overcome?

Larissa Bresler: Well, it's a tough question because so far every single council and committee I've reached out to have been nothing but collaborative, open-minded and completely invested in this. Anytime you have a huge organization, maybe UroToday, AUA, ABU, whatever, Microsoft... Let's pick one out of the hat... there are always going to be some inherent barriers if there is a systemic change that must be done. But collaboration, working together is the key to achieve our goals. So do I need to pick out some specific hurdle? I don't think they're any different for us as the AUA at large or any large organization. And the way that we have approached it is through working together.

One of my work groups in our committee is called Team Unity and Collaboration, and this team is actually headed by award recipient, Dr. Thavaseelan. And we reach out, not just to councils and committees, but also to stakeholder societies to figure out what works, what doesn't work and combine the best resources, also highlight these resources on our DEI webpage. So I can't say this enough. It's working together in collaborative efforts. A singular person, singular name, to me does not matter. Maybe I'm not quite with the times and social media and how things should be. I don't know, but it's the success of us as an organization. And even look at you. You are reaching out to us to speak about it. That's collaborative effort already. We're working together on highlighting what works and overcoming any kind of issues. And anybody who says that, okay, it's easy, you just turn the huge ship around, they haven't been in leadership yet.

Samuel Washington: It's an exciting new space. So it's exciting to see what'll happen as we move forward. And already the discussions have changed from where they were three years ago even. From that standpoint, particularly because the AUA is so excited about this, what have you in the committee been able to kind of leverage? Or what kind of sponsorship has come through the AUA to allow you guys to proceed with these collaborations?

Larissa Bresler: Well, first step is there is buy-in from leadership. The executive leadership and Dr. Messing, who is the president, huge ally and have been responsive to me, not just by email, but by phone addressing issues. This is the space where I'd like to highlight actually Sharon Stover, who's EVP at the AUA and our partner in the committee and head of HR, and Maab, Khair, who's actually Dr. Maab, Khair, I can't say good enough things because I text and email every single day so many times, and I've received nothing but support and collaboration. Maab is here on call, and sometimes I have to email him, "Maab, do not read this till Monday," because our crazy work schedules, yours and mine, we just look at it, if something takes five, 10 minutes to reply, we reply, and sometimes it's not quite in line with what normal people do or live. And I got to tell you, Dr. Maab, he replies on Sunday night, who knows at what time?

So the buy-in is there. Dr. Stringer, the treasurer... Let's give a distinct example. Dr. Denstedt, our secretary, we received 218 abstracts for our sessions, DEI categories. 214 qualified, because as you know, sometimes somebody submits something in the wrong categories. Out of these 214, we had to present it in few sessions. And Dr. Denstedt worked with me to expand it to five sessions. So we have five sessions and two take-home message sessions. I think the true examples, the palpable successes, is what speaks for our work. Have you heard of our FUTURE program, Future Urology Talent from Underrepresented Entities, our mentorship program?

Samuel Washington: Yes.

Larissa Bresler: We've recruited 52 students. I don't have the final number of how many attended, but the feedback so far has been tremendously positive because these are students from underrepresented groups who we are targeting and inviting into our urologic community. This particular event required tremendous buy-in, not just from leadership, but also applying for grants. So AUA grants office helped us apply for Boston Scientific grant. The industry, Boston Scientific, stepped in and walked the walk and supported us making this happen. It's a clear example of collaborative effort. Dr. Asafu-Adjei tirelessly worked sharing this news on Twitter. Program directors from Chicago areas collaborated. Think about how many leaders from the AUA stepped up to be future program mentors. That speaks to success. Another person to highlight is Dr. Kurt McCammon, one of the board members, Mid-Atlantic section, who is supportive and also championing the program in his session as a pilot for undergraduates. So my words really don't matter. What matters is the evidence of palpable and true success of our missions.

Samuel Washington: Thank you for giving us a glimpse kind of behind the curtain on everything that's been going on. It's exciting and amazing how much has happened in a very short amount of time for such a large organization. Now, I guess the followup and the last question would be, say one of us in the workforce, academic or community, want to help. Are there opportunities for urologists, people in our space to help support this work?

Larissa Bresler: Absolutely. Every single person can do something. I'm sure you can even speak to this better than I can, but there are things that could be done from top, bottom and bottom up. So from top bottom, it's teaching us about health disparities, providing this education, but also providing a glimpse into unconscious or intrinsic biases. This training is necessary. The ABU is collaborating with us creating some videos for recertification and education of urologists. That's just a little bit about your question. If any of us are not in leadership, the first step is to be a good ally. Let me give you honest truth. I don't know what it feels like walking, being a male. I don't know what it feels like walking and furthermore being male of minorities and being a Black male, but I could tell you what it feels like being stopped in a car by local police with my husband, Black male in a car. So you probably don't quite know what it feels like walking the shoes of tiny, foreign woman being in urology, but you and UroToday are tremendous champions and allies. You had the whole podcast Women in Science sharing this, how to be a good ally and how to champion this work.

And I'm here to learn. I'm work in progress. I'm here to listen. I'm here to work with [inaudible 00:11:53]. I'm here to champion LGBTQIA of course. If anybody has a question about my feeling about these issues, just read Myth, Fears, and the True State of Diversity in US Workforce. It was on the cover of the last issue of the AUA News in April. So we are all here to learn and to take a minute to be a good ally, because the power is in a bystander, right?

Samuel Washington: Yeah.

Larissa Bresler: Let me ask you to flip this around for a second, because this is a dialogue. How do you think each one of us can contribute? Let's talk, because your opinion matters, and you matter.

Samuel Washington: So for me, a peon, kind of lower down a little bit-

Larissa Bresler: No, you're not. You're a leader on the team. That's why you are invited to speak all the time. So you're nowhere near peon. You're a star and a leader and a role model for many of us.

Samuel Washington: So I think about kind of my sphere of influence. So what can I do in my sphere of influence in academics? Well, I can mentor students. I can leverage departmental resources. My department has supported a lot of efforts to increase diversity, increase exposure for those people who may not have home programs, for example, so they can see urology early enough to make that pivot in their kind of career path. I try to engage with the community outside of urologists. So this gives, from a care perspective, a pathway to see urologists, to get care within UCSF, that may have been much harder to do prior to kind of establishing these relationships. So those are, for me, ways that I try to contribute a little bit to the overall picture.

Larissa Bresler: And you definitely, definitely do. I can honestly say that.

Samuel Washington: Thanks. Thank you. Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you're incredibly busy. We're both in clinic, so I know we were able to carve out a little bit of time to chat. Everyone should check out AUA News, the last edition that came out. There's a lot of great pieces in there about where the urology workforce and our field is headed, and it's quite exciting. And thank you again for taking the time.

Larissa Bresler: And thank you. And thank you to my committee. Every single person works tirelessly. They're all stars. We have program directors. We have chair people. We have society presidents. More than half of committees are bilingual. Some are trilingual. I can't say good enough things about my committee. So please take a look at the pictures on AUA websites because they're the star of this work. I'm just a person who works with our committee and with the AUA.

Samuel Washington: Well, thank you so much. Thank you again.

Larissa Bresler: Thank you. Bye.