Senior clinical scientist Jessica Brescher and senior engagement strategy lead Erika Heiges are on the forefront of increasing diversity within clinical trial populations, while simultaneously guiding their own career growth through critical work at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS). Their fascinating journeys are reflective of many of our BMS colleagues with diverse education and experience who have translated their passions and learning objectives into interesting and meaningful careers.
“In conducting clinical research, we cannot be exclusive or biased to one particular patient population,” said Erika. “We need to make sure that all patient communities participate in our studies so that science and research reflects the epidemiology of the disease being studied.”
On the surface this might sound self-evident but when Erika elaborates on the changing clinical trial environment, the challenges become clearer. “We’re looking at expanding patient populations beyond race, age and ethnicity,” she explained. “We know that over 1 billion people worldwide are diagnosed with a disability. And that disability might intersect with other underrepresented communities including, for instance, those of different gender orientation.”
Recognizing Underrepresented Populations
While Erika is part of a team leading a five-year BMS strategic plan studying disability and diversity in clinical trials, Jessica came from a medical bioethics background where she fed her passion of working with underrepresented populations.
“That background led me to the LGBTQ population and their role in clinical research,” said Jessica. “What I found was there was no information because the data hadn’t been collected. When I saw there was a new SOGIIS (sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status) data collection team happening at BMS, I said, 'sign me up!' My mantra is representation is good science. And in my view, the biggest threat to the health of LGBTQ people in the U.S. is a lack of data."
Indeed, Jessica's leadership and participation in the SOGIIS workgroup led to the first-ever BMS acknowledgment in the public domain about these efforts, which helped cement BMS's reputation as a groundbreaker and as the first industry leader in this space for LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
Similar to Jessica, Erika parlayed her education and past experience into a career; in Erika’s case, within the Clinical Trial Engagement & Enrollment Team. She combined her experience in clinical and psychosocial research while obtaining her Masters in Public Health, along with her patient education and marketing experience to – in Erika’s words – “make sure our internal and external communication is aligned to our bigger strategic goals.”
Approaching Clinical Trials as a Mission and a Calling
Speaking with Erika and Jessica, one realizes the depth and breadth of career options available under the umbrella of work involving clinical trials, along with ensuring the conclusion of underrepresented populations within those trials, an objective that is in line with the BMS mission.
“We’re a patient-centric organization,” said Erika. “We support patients and caregivers by providing them with the treatments and services they need. As engagement strategists, we also have the unique opportunity to talk with and listen to patients and caregivers directly. We translate their insights and needs back to the clinical science teams to make sure we’re designing and implementing trials to meet those needs.”
Jessica’s background in microbiology led to a masters in epidemiology. After developing certain skill sets through a medical writing job, she was introduced to the idea of becoming a clinical scientist. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “It would allow me to design studies and conduct scientific research, but at the population level, not just the microscope and lab level.”
Bringing Talents, Passion and Skill Sets to a Career
Supporting the design and conduct of clinical trials provided an incredibly meaningful career platform for both Jessica and Erika. Evolving career responsibilities to help build inclusion among underrepresented populations were natural progressions to even more rewarding callings. But both noted that, rather than a standard career trajectory plotted out by HR or a corporate job description, these were deliberate paths worked through by Jessica, Erika and their managers.
"Collecting SOGIIS data is important to me as a clinical researcher, as a doctoral student, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community," said Jessica. "That’s where my push has been with the guidance of my manager who really cares about my passions.”
Leadership Commitments Open the Doors to Progress
Erika relayed how inclusion and diversity at BMS are embraced by everyone, beginning with leadership, who support efforts to have a diverse, inclusive workforce within clinical trials. “When I began at BMS, there was a usability assessment project with DAWN, our BMS resource group representing people with disabilities,” she said. “I had experience in health literacy and design guidelines. I then joined the conversation around expanding our inclusion of clinical patients to include people with disabilities. We embarked on this journey together and we’re helping to bring it to fruition.”
BMS's inclusion and diversity goals and health equity commitments ensure we are serving more patients, and that means bringing our vision of transforming patients' lives through science to life.
Find out how you can play a critical role within our organization with your own unique set of skills and experience. Explore open roles involving clinical trialsand be one step closer to work that transforms patients’ lives, as well as your own.