Report Suggests Actions to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in Biomedical Fields

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A new report directs universities to re-evaluate graduate student programs in biomedical fields in order to reduce “stereotype threat” in which minorities believe they are less likely to succeed than more prominent cultural groups.

The report, titled “Increasing Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce: Actions for Improving Evidence,” was released in collaboration by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, and the Association of American Medical Colleges. It determines current voids in knowledge and recommends actions that should be taken by research universities, academic medical centers, and other national stakeholders to improve the use of data to help universities enhance and expand a culturally sensitive, diverse, and prepared workforce.

Researchers believe that universities play an important role in preparing the future workforce and thus have the opportunity to implement changes to enhance research enterprise, drive discovery, and improve the country’s competitiveness in the global economy.

An expanding body of evidence supports the link between diversity and performance across disciplines, and prior research shows that diverse groups are able to solve complicated problems more quickly and effectively than homogeneous teams.

In the report, data was scrutinized in four areas: leadership, organizational change, and climate; diverse student success; recruitment and admissions; and diverse faculty hiring and advancement. Researchers believe that ensuring university strategies are rooted in evidence will promote further change and support leaders in an effort to recruit and prepare the nation’s future scientists.

Beyond reviewing data, the report provides recommended actions — including pilot programs, summer bridge programs, holistic admissions reviews, cross-institutional studies, and analyses of national data sets — to bolster the scientific evidence needed to advise future university endeavors. The recommendations are meant to be a starting point for increasing access to STEM and biomedical science careers, as well as ensuring student success in those fields.

Summer bridge programs counsel students into graduate school with partnerships between research-intensive institutions and minority-serving institutions. Successful programs have reported increased likelihood of underrepresented student admission into doctoral programs, as well as increased underrepresented student perseverance in biomedical science and STEM fields.

On the admissions side, a holistic review process helps universities consider a wide range of factors that affect an applicant’s academic readiness, contribution to the incoming class, and potential for achievement both in school and as a professional.

A recent survey conducted by Urban Universities for HEALTH showed that schools using a holistic review process reported more diversity in incoming classes with no adverse impact on student achievement metrics, such as graduation and the number of attempts needed to pass licensing exams.

At the undergraduate student level, research demonstrates that improving students’ non-cognitive skills, such as scientific identity and self-efficacy, aids student retention and persistence — particularly in the STEM and biomedical science fields. In addition, developing students’ sense of belonging and encouraging a growth mindset has led to accelerated academic success among students from underrepresented groups, most notably African American students.

Researchers for the project recommend that universities not limit their diversity efforts to demographics alone and instead, to achieve the full benefits of diversity, modify programs and policies to ensure support for all rising faculty members in STEM.