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More Racial/Ethnic Minority Participation Needed in NIH Funding Says JNMA Study


WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 -- Minorities continue to find barriers to applying and successfully competing for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which limits the number of racial/ethnic minority principal investigators on NIH funded research, according to an article in the August issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association (JNMA).

In “Barriers to Racial/Ethnic Minority Application and Competition for NIH Research Funding,” Vickie L. Shavers, Ph.D., and colleagues say that, “Despite recognition of the need to increase the pool of racial/ethnic minority investigators, racial/ethnic minority representation among NIH-funded investigators remains low.”

As a consequence there may be less involvement of racial/ethnic minority researchers in primary roles on NIH funded research projects including those related to health disparities according to Shavers, who is an epidemiologist with the Applied Research Program at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Minority investigators could have an important role in enhancing the health of underserved populations with conditions that can be prevented or controlled, because they are “more likely to focus on those diseases and/or risks for which minority populations experience disproportionately high morbidity and mortality and bring unique perspectives and experiences that enhance the potential for understanding the factors that underlie variation in health and health status.”

Dr. Shavers in collaboration with Drs. Pebbles Fagan, Deirdre Lawrence; Worta McCaskill-Stevens; Paige McDonald; Doris Browne; Dan McLinden; Edward Trimble, and Michaele Christian used concept mapping, a mixed methods planning approach, to identify barriers and strategies for reducing barriers racial/ethnic minority application and successful competition for NIH funding. They also held a meeting with 35 minority investigators to discuss results of the concept mapping and to set an agenda for a workshop designed to help reduce some of the identified barriers related to technical skill and career development.

Specific barriers identified by the concept mapping process and meeting participants included inadequate research infrastructure, training and development; lack of development as independent researchers; inadequate mentoring; insensitivity, misperceptions and miscommunication about the needs of investigators researching minority communities; institutional bias; an unfair competitive environment; lack of institutional support for topics and methods relevant to research with minority communities, and social, cultural and environmental issues.

To rectify the situation, “the NIH should use strategies that overcome barriers at the home institutions, within NIH and at the investigator level,” said Shavers. Specific strategies suggested by the concept-mapping process and meeting participants included creating opportunities for mentorship and collaboration; increasing commitment and accountability of institutions funded by NIH and within NIH; sensitizing and diversifying the grants-review process; increasing technical assistance and skill-building programs; funding more opportunities for career development; cultivating long-term relationships between NIH and its constituencies; broadening the scope and type of funding; and supporting professional and organizational development.

In response to these results the NCI held a Minority Investigator Career Development Workshop in Palm Desert, CA July 21-23 which was attended by 134 investigators. Session topics included an overview of NIH funding mechanisms; grant writing, research methodology, mock reviews, and mentoring relationships. A 2006 workshop is currently being planned for late/August-September 2006.

The full text of the article, J. Nat. Med. Assoc. 2005;97:1063-1077, can be viewed on the NMA website at or through a direct link at:


The Journal of the National Medical Association was established in 1909 and is published monthly by the National Medical Association (NMA). The NMA is the nation’s oldest and largest medical association representing the interests of minority physicians and their patients.


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