UNTHSC to join effort to diversify biomedical workforce

Dr. Jamboor K. Vishwanatha
Dr. Harlan Jones

UNT Health Science Center, in partnership with four other institutions, is designing a mentoring network for researchers from underrepresented backgrounds as part of a national effort to diversify the biomedical workforce.

UNTHSC – along with Boston College, University of Wisconsin, Morehouse School of Medicine and University of Minnesota – will share a five-year, $19.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to form the National Research Mentoring Network. The goal is to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to start and stay in biomedical careers.

Nationally, the number of faculty members from underrepresented groups in the biomedical sciences has remained stagnant for about 30 years, said Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, PhD, Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and International Programs. In addition, numerous studies have shown that when controlling for all variables, researchers from underrepresented backgrounds are not as successful at securing large NIH grants when compared to their peers.

“This is a national effort to change that equation, and we’re taking a lead role in it,” Dr. Vishwanatha said.

Dr. Vishwanatha will head the project’s Networking and Mentorship core, which is responsible for developing a web portal and recruiting a diverse group of mentees and mentors. Dr. Harlan Jones, Director of the Center for Diversity and International Programs at UNTHSC, will serve as associate director of the network’s Professional Development core, along with Dr. Vishwanatha.

This is not UNTHSC’s first foray into biomedical workforce diversity. Its STAR (Steps Toward Academic Research) Fellowship Program in the Texas Center for Health Disparities is aimed at junior faculty and community members interested in health disparities research – with the goals of enhancing their grant-writing skills and improving their ability to obtain funding.

The National Research Mentoring Network is one part of the NIH’s $500 million plan over 10 years to develop new approaches aimed at helping researchers from underrepresented backgrounds thrive in biomedical careers.

“The biomedical research enterprise must engage all sectors of the population in order to solve the most complex biological problems and discover innovative news ways to improve human health,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “While past efforts to diversify our workforce have had significant impact on individuals, we have not made substantial progress in supporting diversity. This program will test new models of training and mentoring so that we can ultimately attract the best minds from all groups to biomedical research.”

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