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VOICES: Getting a Seat at the Table

By: Larissa Bresler, MD, DABMA | Posted on: 01 Dec 2022

“Persistent advocacy and activism, rather than persistent complaining, lead to positive changes,” states Larissa Bresler, MD, DABMA. Dr Bresler recently took her seat as the inaugural CDO (Chief Diversity Officer) and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee Chair. She is an associate professor of urology, obstetrics, and gynecology at the Loyola University Medical Center and Hines VA hospital; she sat on the Federal Women’s Task Force that helps promote equity and inclusion for federal workers; she is a member of the North Central Section of the AUA; she chairs the North Central Section Women in Urology Committee; and she served as the 2021-2022 President of the Chicago Urological Society.

Here, she talks with AUANews about what’s needed to succeed in creating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs; how to be a successful mentor; and more.

Figure 1. Dr Larissa Bresler.

What drew you to the role?

Although I have been involved in DEI efforts for the past 20 years, my endeavor to pursue this type of leadership position didn’t crystalize until I started serving on various boards of directors about 5-6 years ago. I believe that if you sit at the “big table” and you look to the left and to the right, there should be folks who are different from you, ie, leaders representing various underrepresented minority groups in urology. However, I didn’t find that. Rather than complaining about it, I chose to do something about it. In my case, this included data-driven presentations and consistently proposing DEI initiatives. My first presentation did not lead to change, but my third presentation did.

What have you found to be the most impactful components of a DEI initiative?

Infrastructure and a buy-in from the leadership and membership. The creation of the Chief Diversity Officer role and the DEI Committee, as well as a firm commitment to follow the recommendations from the D&I Task Force, are good starting points for the AUA to build on. As CDO, I will work directly with the Board to induce meaningful changes, thus still having a “seat at the table.”

And I’ve found that compassion for competing points of view has been helpful in building compelling arguments for new DEI initiatives and programs.

Are there organizations that you think are doing an excellent job in advancing meaningful DEI changes?

I think many organizations are making intentional changes towards increasing diversity in their respective fields. Specifically, I would like to highlight the efforts of the North Central Section Prospect Project spearheaded by Drs McIntire and Wood. The program serves to promote diversity in urology by providing under-represented in medicine (URiM) first-year medical students a paid summer medical fellowship. By providing early exposure and engagement to the field of urology through mentorship, didactic lectures, and research and clinical experiences, we intend to attract and help successfully match URiM medical students to urology. Four urology programs have agreed to participate and have been instrumental in developing a 2-tiered program that runs concurrently and allows for flexibility of the medical school calendar. The first part is a 14-week webinar lecture series on “Basic Urology and the Art of Scientific Investigation.” The second portion is an 8-week on-site clinical and research experience at one of the 4 participating programs. All applicants to the program are invited to participate in the webinar lecture series; however, only 4 students will be chosen for the paid on-site immersive portion of the program.

Figure 2. Dr Bresler with her residents during their last surgery in residency.

What does successful mentorship look like to you? Have you ever had a mentor yourself? Do you have any mentees?

The first step in successful mentorship is to help your mentee understand and crystalize their goals. Then, a successful mentor would help their mentees make concrete steps toward those goals. A good mentor conveys to their mentees that they believe in them no matter what and empowers them to believe in themselves.

I have had many mentors in my career. I am eternally grateful to all of them, but would like to mention my first mentor, Dr Michael Lemmers, who saw something in me as a 4th year medical student who still struggled with her English and was not sure of what surgical specialty she should pursue. He believed in me and led me to becoming a urological surgeon (Figure 1).

I have had a lot of mentees at each level of medical/surgical education (Figure 2). I usually mentor several medical students, 2 residents, and a younger attending. I also have mentees from the physician-acupuncturists groups and I often coach struggling physicians. I have been very fortunate to work with capable mentees who all achieved success in their careers. My most recent mentee, Betsy Koehne, who just graduated from our program, earned a Department of Urology Academic Achievement award, got a research grant funded, and matched as a urologic oncology fellow at the University of Washington. I am sure she will be my boss one day!

What book are you reading?

Atlas of the Heart, by Brene Brown. I am actually listening to the audiobook and reading. I listen while cooking or washing the dishes and I read before bed. I enjoy listening to these kinds of books if they are read by the author. Somehow, it adds another dimension to the narrative.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I go to work (at a busy Veterans Administration clinic and/or the hospital) and then when I get home I tend to my rooftop urban farm leading to a “roof to table” vegetarian dinner. And, of course, I am listening to podcasts and books while I am being a domestic human. Academic work, board meetings, and emails find their way in quite often in between or instead of my after-work activities.

To hear more from Dr. Bresler on the DEI Committee and her path to leadership, listen to Voices: Meet the AUA's Chief Diversity Officer.