The National Institutes of Health’s Diversity Program Consortium is building one of the most diverse health databases in history. Here, Megan Warrender, Assistant Editor of Open Access Government uncovers how
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have long recognised the importance of diversity in the biomedical, behavioural, clinical and social sciences research workforce, as diversity ensures that the most creative minds have the opportunity to play a part in realising national research and health goals in the U.S.
Research has shown that teams composed of people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences consistently outperform others, offering innovative perspectives and raising new questions. Furthermore, due to the COVID-19 crisis having most severely affected marginalised communities, it has become more important than ever to implement programmes supporting scientists from underrepresented groups.
For this to happen, however, a fundamental shift in the way scientists are trained and mentored still needs to occur to attract and retain individuals from underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce. The Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) is a network of institutions funded by the NIH, and managed by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to improve training and mentoring, enhancing individuals’ success and ultimately engaging a more diverse field of individuals in biomedical research careers.
The impact of COVID-19
“A few years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine what 2020 would bring, and the science community certainly experienced unimaginable situations related to health disparities and racial inequities,” recently stated Alison Gammie, PhD, Director of the Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity at NIGMS, and the DPC lead, in her opening remarks for the 2021 Virtual Research Symposium.
“We have to do everything we can to support and train the next generation of scientists and ensure they come from a diversity of backgrounds to bring their talents and experiences to solving complex problems in medicine, including those that have to do with health disparities,” she added.
Bringing unique ideas, perspectives and direction is vital to scientific research, medical practice, and social understanding, and there needs to be a conscious effort to amplify the voices that provide these perspectives. The DPC is one of many NIH-funded efforts working to promote inclusiveness and equity throughout the biomedical research enterprise.
DPC partners are continuing to develop, implement, assess and disseminate innovative and effective approaches to training and mentoring individuals, from undergraduate programmes through post-doctoral training, to foster successful research careers. Unique aspects of the DPC include:
- A focus on three levels of impact – student, faculty and institutional.
- Making sure to integrate social science research and psychosocial interventions within the process of training and mentoring.
- Rigorous assessment and evaluation of training and mentoring implemented throughout the programme.
“Bringing unique ideas, perspectives and direction is vital to scientific research, medical practice, and social understanding, and there needs to be a conscious effort to amplify the voices that provide these perspectives.”
DPC consists of three core integrated initiatives which are available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
- Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD): Consisting of 10 awards granted to undergraduate institutions, BUILD determines the most effective ways to engage and retain students from diverse backgrounds in biomedical research and prepares students to become future contributors to the NIH-funded research enterprise. BUILD awards differ from other NIH-training grants in that they aim to simultaneously achieve success at all three levels of impact, while also including structured evaluations throughout.
- The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN): This is a national network of mentors and mentees from all biomedical disciplines relevant to the NIH mission developed to provide mentorship, professional development, mentor/mentee training, networking and resources to individuals from the undergraduate to early-career faculty levels. The NRMN research projects include experimental interventions which intend to explore evidence- based mentoring and networking approaches to advance the careers of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
- The Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC): Responsible for coordinating and evaluating the outcomes of DPC activities, the CEC’s coordination efforts include supporting consortium-wide working groups, helping develop and plan publications, managing the DPC website and organising the DPC annual meeting. The CEC’s evaluation work includes designing a detailed evaluation plan to assess the outcomes and impact of BUILD and NRMN’s training and mentoring approaches based on consortium hallmarks of success and logic models. A recent example of their evaluation work is the DPC’s “Face of Science” campaign, which is challenging preconceptions of what a scientist looks like, and asking the questions of “who gets to be the face of science?” Hansook Oh, Co-Director of the CEC’s Communication and Dissemination Core and executive producer of the series stated that “we’re trying to actively shape the image of ‘scientist’ so that people from all backgrounds, with different identities and intersections of experience, can see themselves when they imagine what a scientist looks like.”
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