Category Workforce Diversity   Show all

  • Talent in Biomedical Research Is Universal; Opportunity Is Not

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    NIDDK programs provide opportunity for underrepresented groups to blaze a scientific path

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    This is part of a NIMHD Insights blog series featuring NIH Institute and Center Directors who are highlighting their institutes’ initiatives, training, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research. The series links NIMHD stakeholders to relevant information and opportunities across NIH.

    This post is from the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NIDDK conducts and supports medical research and research training to disseminate science-based information on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutritional disorders, and obesity; and kidney, urologic, and hematologic diseases, to improve people’s health and quality of life.

    By Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
    Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

    Recently, we received a thank you note from a student who participated in a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) program that provides research training to high school and college students from underrepresented groups. A year ago, the student wrote, she had no idea what scientists did, and now she teaches laboratory procedures to other students. She was also selected to present her work at the 2019 American Society for Nephrology’s Kidney Week.

    This aspiring scientist, a first-generation college student, took part in NIDDK’s Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP), and stories like hers support our Institute’s efforts to build a strong pipeline of talented, diverse biomedical researchers.

    Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. It’s a gap I believe we have a responsibility to bridge. Our programs stem from a firm understanding: diversity strengthens science. Increasing diversity in the scientific workforce will enable us to better tackle the diseases in NIDDK’s mission areas, many of which disproportionately affect minority and underrepresented populations. As discussed in a 2016 PLOS Medicine article on improving health equity, scientists from diverse backgrounds can offer innovative perspectives to facilitate problem-solving, as well as encourage people from their own communities to participate in research studies.

    Dr. Rodgers visiting STEP-UP students in the Republic of Palau.

    STEP-UP is one of several NIDDK programs aimed to nurture future generations of scientists from diverse backgrounds. The NIDDK Diversity Summer Research Training Program, for example, gives college students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to conduct research in NIDDK labs, and the Medical Student Research Program in Diabetes enables students to conduct research at an NIDDK-funded diabetes center, with special efforts made to recruit female and minority students.

    NIDDK also funds Aspirnaut™ Summer Research Internships, which bring high school and undergraduate students from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for mentored laboratory training.

    I recently read about a graduate of the program—an African-American man—from one of the poorest areas of Arkansas, where science may not feel like an obtainable career path. After completing his bachelor’s degree in biology, he went on to obtain a master’s degree and now teaches science to middle schoolers.

    I cannot speak enough about the importance of this man’s work—of the need to expose young minds to the world of science and give them opportunities to enter STEM fields. I’m a product of it myself. My father was a high school science teacher, and my mother was a public health nurse. They both instilled in me a love of science that grew into a lifelong passion.

    One of our newer programs, the NIDDK Elementary School Tour, brings local students from low-income areas to the NIH to interact with NIDDK staff, tour our labs, and experience the excitement of scientific discovery. And through the USA Science and Engineering Festival’s Nifty Fifty program, I visit schools to speak to young students about science.

    While we foster the growth of our future scientists, we also support minority health researchers throughout their careers. NIDDK offers several funding opportunities to promote diversity in health-related research. Our Network of Minority Health Research Investigators (NMRI) encourages minority scientists to conduct research within NIDDK’s mission areas. The NMRI facilitates career development in many ways, including connecting junior investigators with senior mentors and providing pathways for networking and collaboration, such as through the NMRI annual meeting.

    As proud as I am of NIDDK’s strides to cultivate a diverse research pipeline, I know we still have work to do. By giving opportunity to talent through our training and outreach programs, as well as the research we conduct and support, NIDDK is working persistently to achieve greater health equity, with the goal of helping all people live healthier, longer lives.

  • Guest Blog Post: Reducing Health Disparities to Improve the Health of All Women

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    This is part of a series of guest NIMHD Insights blog posts where NIH Institute and Center Directors highlight initiatives, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research, and training at their Institutes. The goal of this guest blog series is to link NIMHD stakeholders to minority health and health disparities-related information and opportunities across NIH.

    This post is from the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) ORWH is part of the Office of the Director of NIH, and works in partnership with the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers to ensure that women’s health research is part of the scientific framework at the NIH—and throughout the scientific community.

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    By Janine Austin Clayton, M.D.
    Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health
    Director, Office of Research on Women’s Health

    The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), on behalf of NIH, led the development and publication of The Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women’s Health Research, outlining NIH’s goals for advancing science for the health of women over the next 5 years. One of three guiding principles of the Strategic Plan posits that the influences on the health of women include—in addition to sex and age—race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, geographic location, disability status, and other factors. Rigorous scientific research that accounts for these influences can help us understand and address the health concerns of all populations of women, particularly women from minority populations that bear a disproportionate burden of illness.

    A cursory glance at maternal morbidity and mortality statistics, for example, confirms unequivocally how health disparities between racial and ethnic groups abound in the United States. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.1 More than twice as many African American mothers receive no prenatal care or prenatal care only late in their pregnancies as White mothers.2 Although maternal mortality is on the rise for all demographic groups in this country, Black women have experienced the fastest rate of increase, up to 12 times faster than the rate for White women in some areas.3 Maternal mortality rates are also elevated among Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and some Asian and Hispanic subgroups in certain regions of the United States.4,5 Black women have the highest rates of 22 of the 25 indicators of severe maternal morbidity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention5 and more than twice the risk of severe maternal morbidity of White women.4 Black women have higher rates of preeclampsia than other racial groups, and pregnant women in general with new-onset hypertension are more likely to die of cardiovascular disease later in life.6 In New York City, Black and Hispanic women are more likely than White women to deliver in hospitals with higher rates of severe maternal morbidity.5,7,8Nationwide, racial and ethnic trends in maternal morbidity and mortality as they relate to site of delivery are similar to those in New York City.9

    ORWH, along with other NIH Institutes and Centers, addresses these and other concerns with the following policies, programs, and models supporting biomedical research with the potential to reduce health disparities:

    Through these programs and models, ORWH hopes to guide biomedical research and clinical practice to reduce health disparities and improve care for minority populations. Future longitudinal studies could, for instance, follow women with preeclampsia in the years and decades after their pregnancies to determine the risk of later-life hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases and to test screening practices, preventative interventions, and treatments. In such studies and analogous research in all areas of human health, consideration of race, ethnicity, and the other factors identified in the multidimensional framework would address disparities; inform individualized, evidence-based treatments; guide implementation science; and improve the health of all women.

    Figure 1. This multidimensional framework represents the intersection of multiple factors over the course of a woman’s life.


    1. Mann et al. 2018. Engl. J. Med. 379: 1689-1691.
    2. Child Trends. “Late or No Prenatal Care: Indicators of Child and Youth Well-Being.”
    3. Howell et al. 2017. Perinatol. 41: 266-272.
    4. Howell et al. 2018. Obstet. Gynecol. Neonatal Nurs. 47: 275-289.
    5. 2018. Clin. Obstet. Gynecol. 61: 387-399.
    6. Ghosh et al. 2014. Dis. 24: 283-289.
    7. Howell et al. 2016. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 215: 143-152.
    8. Howell et al. 2017. Gynecol. 129: 285-294.
    9. 2019. Women’s Health in Focus at NIH 2: 2-6.
  • Write Your Own Story: Recognizing Your Potential as a Woman or Minority in Research

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    By Anna María Nápoles, Ph.D., M.P.H.
    Scientific Director
    Division of Intramural Research
    National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

    I recently did an interview for NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, to help celebrate Women’s History Month. I spoke about how mentoring and networking can help diversify science, my work as the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at NIMHD, and the importance of diversity in science. I also shared my personal experience, because it led me to the research that I do. It was my own family’s experiences that taught me the importance of research on health disparities.

    My parents were both immigrants from rural villages in Jalisco, Mexico. My father worked two jobs that were very hard on his body, but he made sure that my two siblings and I had the benefit of an excellent education. Although he had little formal education, my father worked to better himself and was involved in politics and social volunteerism in our community. This had a lasting impact on me.

    My family did not have much money, which meant we had limited access to preventive care. Immunizations were out of the question, which meant that I was often sick as a child. I also served as the interpreter for my mom during medical visits. These experiences made it clear to me that language and economic and cultural factors have a significant impact on your health and your ability to access healthcare.

    Today, my research focuses on people who have not typically felt a great sense of control in society over their own future and their health. My goal is to give them tools to manage their chronic diseases and the healthcare system.

    For example, I tested and developed an evidence-based intervention that focuses on stress management for rural and urban Spanish-speaking Latinas with breast cancer. These women have very high stress levels, and that leads to high rates of problems like anxiety and depression. It’s important to reach people who don’t have access to services because of a language barrier or other problems.

    At NIMHD, I hope to grow a program that focuses on identifying how social adversity affects our health. I want to help the people who experience that adversity and feel like they can’t escape it, by developing treatments and preventive measures that lessen the effects of difficult social circumstances.

    The best advice I’ve ever received, as a woman and a minority and a person, was to create a narrative for myself. Who are you, what type of person are you, and what do you bring to the table? I used to have imposter syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a scientist or to survive in a prestigious academic medical institution. I tried to fly under the radar and avoided putting my research out there. We’re socialized, as women, not to put ourselves first and, culturally, I was socialized to be humble.

    So, I had to write myself a new narrative: I realized that I can handle setbacks, that I’m a confident person, that I do good science, and that I can help improve the health of minority populations. I had to learn to advertise who I am, my strengths, what I bring to a situation, and how I can make the situation better. I’ve had setbacks, blatant racism and discrimination, financial problems, and stressful situations that made work-life balance difficult. But I persisted.

    Our backgrounds are reflected in the kind of work we do. There’s a lot of evidence that shows that diversity improves science, and that diversity leads to ground-breaking discoveries that might not have happened otherwise.

    It’s so important to find your strengths and create that narrative for yourself. Recognize what unique qualities you bring to the table and what unique contributions you can make. I guarantee that your history will bring you to ideas and questions that no one else could have thought of.