By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) is an excellent research enrichment opportunity for promising students from diverse backgrounds to gain real-life experience in NIH laboratories and patient care areas. NIMHD is proud to participate with other NIH Institutes and Centers in the MRSP. Our goal is to introduce the MRSP to medical, dental, and veterinary students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and encourage them to consider biomedical research as a career.
The U.S. population continues to increase in diversity, and there is an urgent need to ensure that the scientific talent which is key to our nation’s success is nurtured, recognized, and supported across all demographic groups. We need more researchers from diverse backgrounds to contribute minority perspectives and priorities to the research agenda, and advance the likelihood that underserved or health disparity populations participate in and benefit from health research.
However, minorities are seriously underrepresented in the biomedical workforce. In a recent study of U.S. citizens applying for investigator-initiated NIH research funding, African Americans were 13 percentage points less likely to receive awards, compared with Whites. African Americans/Blacks, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up a disproportionately small component of the NIH Principal Investigator (PI) pool.
MRSP works to address this deficit in the research workforce by providing a comprehensive, year-long residential program designed to attract the most creative, research-oriented medical, dental, and veterinary students to the NIH intramural campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Student scholars in their second, third, or fourth year of study engage in a closely mentored basic, clinical, or translational research project that matches their research interests and career goals.
In addition to pursuing a rigorous research agenda, MRSP scholars participate in career development activities, lectures, journal club seminars, patient rounds, and clinical research coursework. They also highlight their research in formal presentations to the NIH community and at professional conferences. Each scholar is assigned an advisor who provides guidance in defining a well-articulated career development plan and selecting a dedicated NIH research mentor. Mentors are full-time NIH investigators with established and successful basic, translational, or clinical research programs.
The mentorship of students and early-career scientists is essential to professional success and the future of the biomedical research enterprise as a whole. The availability and quality of mentoring support for graduate students and newly graduated doctorates is important to increasing the proportion of underrepresented minority students who will ultimately obtain an independent position in a research university, medical school, or independent research institute, and finally, successfully compete for R01 grants.
As part of NIH’s mission to train the next generation of clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers, this program is designed for U.S. citizens and permanent residents currently enrolled in an accredited medical, dental, or veterinary program who have completed their core clinical rotations. This does not preclude students with strong research interests from applying before they complete their clinical rotations. Medical and osteopathic students may participate after completing their first year of clinical rotations (i.e., third year of medical school). Dental and veterinary students may participate in the MRSP after completing their second or fourth year of study, due to the integrated nature of the third and fourth (clinical) years.
MRSP scholars experience the full continuum of biomedical research—the bench, the bedside, between the two, and beyond. So this is a comprehensive, integrated, rich opportunity for students ready to build a solid foundation for their careers in biomedical research. I encourage students who are ready to take this competitive, yet rewarding next step to apply.
Applications for the 2017–2018 program will be accepted from October 1, 2016, through January 13, 2017. Interviews will be held in early March 2017, and selections will be announced in mid-March.
Visit the NIH MRSP website at http://cc.nih.gov/training/mrsp/index.html to learn more and submit your online application.