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WIN ADA panel discusses repercussions of COVID-19 on women working in diabetes field


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Cynthia E. Muñoz, PhD, MPH
Cynthia E. Muñoz, PhD, MPH

The ADA’s members-only network for female clinicians, scientists, educators, and other health professionals discussed how various sectors of the diabetes community adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and opportunities to diversify the field during a mini-symposium on Saturday, June 26, at the Scientific Sessions.

Women’s Interprofessional Network of the ADA (WIN ADA)—Long-Term Professional Impact of COVID-19 can be viewed by registered meeting attendees at through September 29, 2021. If you haven’t registered for the Virtual 81st Scientific Sessions, register today to access all of the valuable meeting content.

ADA President, Health Care & Education, Cynthia E. Muñoz, PhD, MPH, and Jennifer Baldwin, BSN, RN, CPN, CDCES, teamed up to provide insight into how clinical care delivery has evolved throughout the pandemic.

Jennifer Baldwin, BSN, RN, CPN, CDCES
Jennifer Baldwin, BSN, RN, CPN, CDCES

“We learned to keep up with emerging knowledge, both institutional and regional procedures, and the frequently changing PPE (personal protective equipment) recommendations,” said Baldwin, Nurse Care Manager, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) Center for Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. “We had to distinguish between accurate information and misinformation. We also had to adjust to the use of new technologies to fulfill patient care needs and educational responsibilities.”

Balancing patient fears and health care needs with their own personal and professional stressors resulting from COVID-19 has taken its toll on providers, a group known for being at risk for anxiety, depression, burnout, insomnia, moral distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Dr. Muñoz, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and a pediatric psychologist at CHLA.

Jessica L. Dunne, PhD
Jessica L. Dunne, PhD

“Under usual working conditions, severe burnout affects as many as 33% of critical care nurses and up to 45% of critical care physicians,” she said. “Researchers from China, Italy, and France found that health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 reported high rates of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and distress. Clinical staff were also at higher risk for moral distress and PTSD.”

With women making up 70% of the global health care workforce, the pandemic exacerbated gender inequities among health care providers, Dr. Muñoz added. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 73% of health care providers who tested positive for COVID-19 were women.

Jessica L. Dunne, PhD, Director of Screening Initiatives, Janssen Research and Development, and Amanda Posgai, PhD, Research Coordinator and Medical Writer, University of Florida Diabetes Institute, reviewed data on the leadership gap for women working in the diabetes field.

Amanda Posgai, PhD
Amanda Posgai, PhD

Nearly half of diabetes researchers are women, yet women continue to be underrepresented in most professional categories related to the field, except for roles classically associated with nursing, Dr. Posgai noted.

“Female physicians and basic scientists continue to face barriers to upper level leadership,” she said. “Female investigators are not equitably represented among those recognized with upper echelon awards and marquee speaking engagements.”

Dr. Posgai listed several practical steps to help women gain equal leadership opportunities in diabetes-related fields, including: the creation of searchable databases that highlight underrepresented groups of investigators; targeted funding for advancement opportunities for women; the establishment of systems to improve accountability for diversification efforts and enforcement of zero-tolerance policies for harassment; and refusal to sponsor meetings that do not provide equitable speaking opportunities for women and minority investigators.

Laura C. Alonso, MD
Laura C. Alonso, MD

“When we think about how to change the trajectory, we really focus on three different areas to improve the stature of women in the diabetes research community,” Dr. Dunne said. “And those are funding, recognition, and opportunity.”

Laura C. Alonso, MD, Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and Director, Weill Center for Metabolic Health, Weill Cornell Medicine, discussed several disruptions in medical academia caused by the pandemic.

“Within a very short period of time, education had to switch to virtual,” Dr. Alonso said. “Not only didactics and case conferences, but even medical clerkships had to be switched to a virtual format.”

Medical students at some institutions were restricted from lab research during occupancy reductions because they were not considered essential personnel, and many international students were advised to return to their home countries, she added.

Sharon Edelstein, ScM
Sharon Edelstein, ScM

“There may have been some silver linings in terms of the rapid move to a virtual format that, in many cases, are tools we can use going forward,” Dr. Alonso said. “On the positive side, 82% of surveyed institutions think that they will retain a hybrid course option permanently, which may offer more educational opportunities in the future.”

Sharon Edelstein, ScM, a biostatistician and project coordinator, George Washington University Biostatistics Center, and co-investigator for the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), discussed the impact of the pandemic on clinical trials, including the DPP Outcomes Study and the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial/Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications (DCCT/EDIC).

“While COVID-19 disrupted these large ongoing studies, the studies were able to quickly transition to virtual visits and followed all state, local, and institutional regulations, while visit completion remained remarkably high,” she said.

For the past decade and continuing through the pandemic, about 85% of participants adhered to their DPPOS study visits, she added. By the time of the Scientific Sessions, almost all of the study’s clinics had reopened for in-person visits.


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