NIA, NIH Initiatives Help Diversify Biomedical Workforce


Look no further than the pages of LINKS for examples of ways the National Institute on Aging (NIA) fosters diversity in the biomedical workforce—it’s long been a priority for the Institute.

Now in its 27th year, NIA’s Summer Institute on Aging Research has introduced hundreds of early- and mid-career scientists to the intrigues of aging research and helped participants develop skills to be successful tenure-track investigators. NIA also is a driving force behind online resources like the Health Disparities Resource Persons Network and the Women of Color Research Network sponsored by the trans-NIH Women of Color Committee. What’s more, many of NIA’s research studies about health disparities—like those conducted at its Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research—are led by investigators who often share a similar background as their participants.

But NIA’s work to build a pipeline of diverse researchers does not stop there. The Institute, represented by its Deputy Director, Marie Bernard, M.D., is active on the trans-NIH Working Group on Diversity.

“I am honored to serve on this working group,” said Dr. Bernard. “It is gratifying to see this important issue recognized, and to have the opportunity to contribute to NIH’s approach to enhancing diversity in both the extramural and intramural worlds.”

The trans-NIH Working Group on Diversity is an outcome of recommendations from the Advisory Committee to the Director’s (ACD) Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce. The ACD was formed in August 2011 by NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., following the Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards in Science report by Ginther, et al.

The committee was charged with “providing concrete recommendations toward improving the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities, people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the lifespan of a biomedical research career from graduate study to acquisition of tenure in an academic position or the equivalent in a non-academic setting.”

The group quickly went to work, and in less than a year, in June 2012, announced 13 recommendations (PDF, 3.4M) for NIH. These recommendations included tracking the careers of NIH trainees; amplifying mentoring, training, and scholarship-fellowship opportunities for minority students; improving NIH support of institutions that have a reputation for cultivating underrepresented minority scientists; and adding to NIH’s infrastructure groups that would advise on how NIH can continue to improve diversity and reduce bias and disparities in research awards.

Since then, NIH has moved forward to enhance diversity in the biomedical workforce. Activities include the creation of a new senior-level position—Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity—to lead this effort; Dr. Bernard serves on the search committee to fill this post. NIH also has three new Funding Opportunity Announcements:

Learn about additional approaches for Increasing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce.

Another Funding Opportunity

Check out the NIH Common Fund’s Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce Funding Opportunity Announcement—Biomedical Research Workforce Innovation Award: Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) (DP7). BEST awards will support the development of novel graduate and postdoctoral training activities showing trainees diverse career options.

HHS Committed to Diversity

In March 2013, all Department of Health and Human Services staff (HHS, NIH’s parent agency) received an email from Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlining her commitment to “create a climate of innovation, opportunity, and success within the Department that capitalizes on the cultural, professional, and ethnic diversity of our workforce.” A new Diversity and Inclusion Council is being created, to be comprised of representatives across HHS. This group will help:

  • ensure the accountability and implementation of its Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan
  • improve engagement and partnerships with national diversity organizations and Employee Resource Groups
  • increase outreach and other efforts to recruit, promote, and retain members of underrepresented groups, in particular Hispanics, veterans, and persons with disabilities
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