Words Matter: Presenting with a Culture of Respect

By Andrea Ng, MD, MPH, Chair, Annual Meeting Scientific Program Committee, and Christina Tsien, MD, Chair, Annual Meeting Education Committee

Words matter. As research has indicated and has been highlighted in a recent ASTRO Blog, it is important to use professional introductions, correct pronunciations of names and correct use of pronouns as well as respectful language around patients when presenting research at meetings. In an effort to improve the practice of using respectful language regarding patients and colleagues, the ASTRO Annual Meeting Steering Committee, in collaboration with the Committee on Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, developed Culture of Respect guidelines for presenters at the Annual Meeting.

The guidelines provide examples of appropriate and inappropriate language presenters and moderators can use to prepare presentations. We encourage all ASTRO members to review the Culture of Respect guidelines below and adhere to them when preparing presentations for the Annual Meeting and to continue to use them for all ASTRO meetings. In addition, these guidelines can help you think about the words you use when speaking with patients and their families. The guidelines can also be found under the Speaker Resources section of the Annual Meeting website.

Building a Culture of Respect at the ASTRO Annual Meeting: Language is Action

Historically, health care language has not consistently been centered on patient sensitivity. Insensitive health care language can have the inadvertent consequence of alienating and dehumanizing patients. It is increasingly recognized that “words matter” and can shape and reflect our behavior, and appropriate language is imperative to ensure that our patients and their families are treated with respect and dignity. Adopting language of respect extends also to the treatment of our colleagues. Recent studies have uncovered inconsistencies in the use of formal titles in the introduction of speakers at national and international conferences.

With an expanding audience due to increasing use of virtual technology and social media, and in order to foster a respectful, inclusive and bias-free culture, ASTRO and its 2021 President pledge to raise awareness, provide guidance and standardize appropriate language use at the ASTRO Annual Meeting. As such, the following directives, which will be continually evaluated, updated and modified, have been developed for participants of the ASTRO Annual Meeting during all ASTRO sessions and presentations:

  1. When describing research findings, or presenting the case of a patient, avoid language that:
    (i) Imply patients are responsible for their condition or outcome
  • Instead of: “20% of patients failed treatment”
    Appropriate language: “20% of patients had tumors that did not respond to treatment”
    Instead of: “20% of patients progressed”
    Appropriate language: “The tumors progressed in 20% of patients”
  1. Dehumanize patients
  • Instead of: “A 42 year-old paraplegic”
    Appropriate language: “A 42 year-old patient with paraplegia”
  1. Stigmatize patients
  • Instead of: “Substance abuser”
    Appropriate language: “Patient with a history of substance use disorder”
  1. When introducing or addressing speakers:
  1. Speakers who have a doctoral degree (e.g., MD, PhD, ScD, DMD, PharmD) should be introduced and addressed as Dr. Full Name or Dr. Last Name.
  2. All other speakers should be introduced as Mr./Ms./Mx. Full Name or Mr./Ms./Mx. Last Name
  3. Formal titles should be used throughout the entire session, including Q&A, in a consistent manner, regardless of the level of familiarity with each other
  4. Whenever possible, we strongly encourage session, panel or workshop chairs, moderators and all other speakers, to confirm ahead of time the correct pronunciation of the speakers’ names and their gender pronouns. Visit https://www.mypronouns.org/how for more information on pronouns.

ASTRO Leadership greatly appreciates the valuable contributions from all ASTRO Annual Meeting Faculty members, and their commitment to support a culture of respectful, collegial and inclusive interactions.

Posted: September 7, 2021 | with 0 comments
Filed under: Annual Meeting

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