Ericka Samantha Teleg, MD

Towfighi A, Benson RT, Tagge R, Moy CS, Wright CB, Ovbiagele B. Inaugural Health Equity and Actionable Disparities in Stroke: Understanding and Problem-Solving Symposium. Stroke. 2020;51:3382–3391.*

Health disparities in gender, class, race, and ethnicity exist. In the scientific community, this is a sad truth as well. Many of us researchers, physicians, and scientists are underrepresented. The Health Equity and Actionable Disparities in Stroke: Understanding and Problem-solving (HEADS-UP) symposium is meant to shatter these disparities, breaking through such barriers of social injustice, color, and caste systems. Researchers are key to resolve this challenge and advocate for the underrepresented minorities (URM) in the health system. This community will enable us to identify the differences in the biological, social, and environment that affect the continuum of care access and ensure quality care is given to underrepresented individuals.

The term URM stands for underrepresented minorities, and, as a consequence, clinicians and scientists will unite — hence, URM faculty will engage in research endeavors to reduce such differences among the underserved and/or low-income communities and make certain of the representation of the group in large clinical trials. There is strength in numbers, and clearly HEADS-UP is a voice for URM scientists.

The structure of the symposium is annual in nature and consists of dedicated forums to create, discuss, teach, and mentor the science. It is up to such group to be the light at the end of the tunnel to “illuminate research gaps,” inspire young trainees, and provide networking opportunities. HEADS-UP is a collaborative initiative with the American Stroke Association, which is a national organization dedicated to advancing the science of stroke prevention, treatment, and recovery through research and education, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS). The first symposium was held this year as an International Stroke Conference pre-conference symposium. It was led by the Symposium Planning Committee that includes Bruce Ovbiagele (chair), Amytis Towfighi (vice chair), and Richard Benson (program director, Office of Global Health and Health Disparities at NINDS). Attendees included 124 registrants; 74 (60%) were female, 43 (35%) were male, and 7 (6% undeclared; ethnicity 11 Asian (9%), 21 Black (17%), 44 White (36%), 10 Hispanic (8%), 25 other (20%), and 4 (3%) unreported.

The sessions included a lecture by Dr. Ralph Sacco. A leader in stroke epidemiology, treatment, prevention, and inequities research, he was presented with the Dr. Edward J. Kenton III Award. He elucidated on the Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS), the Florida-Puerto Rico Collaboration to reduce stroke disparities, and the University of Miami Clinical Translational Science Institute. There were moderated poster presentations and a Think Tank Session, which was a 90-minute session for which four pre-selected early career investigators presented ideas for a potential grant application or completed project to a research inequity panel and an NINDS official. There was also a Building Momentumsession, which was moderated by stroke inequities researchers to discuss interactive topics; one of special interest was “Managing Your Bosses.”

Travel grant awards and scholarships are given to help young researchers to attend and network in such a diverse symposium and use such knowledge gained to unite against social injustice. This symposium is a much-needed trailblazer at these particular times.

*This article is part of a Focused Updates series of articles on topics related to health equity published in the November 2020 issue of Stroke.