In Search of the Moonshot: Summit Focuses on Strategies to Increase Diversity in Medicine and Research
The National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), in partnership with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), recently hosted on the NIH campus the Consensus Summit on Building Diversity in Medicine and Research, where a diverse group of 75 thought leaders and decision-makers representing academia, research, corporations, medical students, health practitioners, government, and nonprofits gathered to share lessons learned, discuss best practices, and establish innovative strategies and recommendations for next steps toward enhancing workforce diversity in medicine and biomedical and behavioral research.
The day-long meeting featured two panel discussions and breakout sessions on the role of institutional leadership in building a diverse workforce in medicine and research and best practices in recruiting and sustaining diversity in biomedical and behavioral research and medicine.
"This is an invitational meeting to bring together the best and brightest in medicine and research to determine ways to build pipelines and pathways for the next generation, and we know how important it is to start now," said Dr. Elena V. Rios, NHMA president and CEO.
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, NIH principal deputy director, charged the group to go beyond traditional models and to bring NIH new insights on how to translate the best practices. "Meetings like this are so crucial because we get to hear from those in the trenches, doing what needs to be done," he said. "You can help us think through how we can generalize these approaches and success stories."
Dr. Yvonne T. Maddox, NIMHD acting director, shared her vision for building diversity in medicine and research. "It's time for big ideas," she said. "Let's make today a big moment. We have to think differently about how to address research workforce diversity. We need deans, department chairs, and faculty at medical schools involved in changing policies on how they accept students and select administrative staff."
Echoing Dr. Maddox's challenge to think "bold and big", Dr. Yvonne "Bonnie" A. Maldonado, senior associate dean for faculty development and diversity at the Stanford University School of Medicine, encouraged participants to look for the moonshot—the big ideas and innovations—to engage inclusion, awareness, and empowerment.
Featured speaker Dr. Hannah Valantine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, discussed NIH's new integrated approach to "improve its chances of being successful in moving the needle forward" on expanding diversity in biomedical research careers. Some of these approaches include the establishment of national hubs for innovation in scientific workforce diversity; a renewed commitment to ensuring fairness in peer review; testing and evaluating evidence-based programs to diversify the NIH Intramural Research Program; and grants through the NIH Common Fund's Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program: Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, the National Research Mentoring Network, and the Coordination and Evaluation Center.
"We need to be cognizant of why we need diversity and the nature of the problem," she said. "Diversity is essential for good science. There are a number of risks we face that lack of diversity causes. We lose trust. Increased diversity leads to more committed scientists."
Dr. Monica Ramirez Basco, assistant director for neuroscience, mental health, and broadening participation in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, emphasized President Barack Obama's support of science and engineering, highlighting programs to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) efforts such as the Department of Energy's $25 million grant to support cybersecurity education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Rather than creating a series of new initiatives, Dr. Ronald Copeland, senior vice president, national diversity strategy and policy, and chief diversity officer at Kaiser Permanente, urged participants to consider an integrated approach to diversifying the medical and research workforce. "Value is created through integration, not fragmentation," he said. "We need to harness the power of integration to bring things to scale, which involves tracking, infrastructure, and measurable results over time and requires stakeholder engagement."
Many students aspiring to careers in science and medicine drop out or change majors within the first two years of their studies when they become overwhelmed by the rigorous coursework, said Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "We need to rethink the first two years of a student's career—change the structure of the classroom—and connect researchers to students at this critical point where they are deciding whether to stick with the challenge of scientific study or not," he said.
Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University, called for more women and people of color on search committees and in leadership positions in academia, as well as increased financial assistance for students, such as Pell grants, and incentives for them to graduate on time. "We need to take away barriers that prevent students from succeeding," he said.
Participants and panelists discussed the need for more women and people of color among the STEM ranks to serve as educators, administrators, role models, and mentors, as well as faculty development and training, particularly in the areas of unconscious bias, mentoring, and leadership. However, they agreed a commitment to diversity requires the adoption, monitoring, and evaluation of best practices; the full participation and support of the highest levels of institutional leadership; resources; and a collaborative effort among government, industry, and academia in order to create sustainable change.
In addition to Basco, Copeland, Frederick, Hrabowski, and Maldonado, other panelists included Dr. Dana McDowelle, assistant dean for diversity and professional development, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, and Dr. Ciro V. Sumaya, professor, health policy and management, Cox Endowed Chair in Medicine, and founding dean, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M University Health Science Center.
Moderators included Dr. Elena V. Rios, NHMA president and CEO; Dr. Teresa Chapa, NHMA executive director; Dr. Carl V. Hill, director, Office of Special Populations, National Institute on Aging; Dr. Marc Nivet, chief diversity officer, Association of American Medical Colleges (also served as a panelist); and Dr. Della Brown White, program officer, Office of Health Equity, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
NHMA will issue a summary report with recommendations from the meeting on the role of institutional leadership in building a diverse workforce in medicine and research and best practices in recruiting and sustaining diversity in biomedical and behavioral research and medicine.