U of U Health receives grant to support early-career scientists in family caregiving and their research

Nearly two years after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States the ripple effects of this pandemic are disrupting biomedical research, particularly among young scientists, who are considering their options for careers as they attempt to manage increased family caregiving responsibilities.

To address this concern to address this concern, the COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists (FRCS) competition has awarded University of Utah Health a two-year, $500,000 grant to help retain 10 early-career scientists and revitalize their research while allowing them to attend to the needs of their families.

U of U Health has committed matching funds to support of another eight awards — four awards through contributions from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, and four through the Department of Internal Medicine.

“For scientists who are in their early stages, especially women and people of color, the first few years of their careers can be extremely challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic just made things worse,” says Angela Fagerlin, Ph.D., professor and chair in the Department of Population Health Sciences who is the co-leader of the COVID-19 FRCS in Utah along with Michael A. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. Vice chair for Faculty Affairs and Development at Department of Internal Medicine.

“A majority of these scientists haven’t been able to do their typical amount of research over the last two years because of the additional pressures of having to devote a significant portion of their time to taking care of themselves and others,” Fagerlin says. “Hopefully this program will aid them in regaining the time they’ve lost.”

Each of the U of U Health early career scientists will receive $50,000 to assist them in their quest for science advancement and to address the family issues that arose from the pandemic. This includes hiring “extra hands” for example, adding administrative personnel, statisticians, and technicians to work in their labs.

Too many people are quitting work or seeing their progress slow to a halt due to the pandemic. The funds will keep faculty from falling behind, while allowing them the time to care for their families.

Michael A. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair for Faculty Affairs and Development at Department of Internal Medicine, U of U Health

U of U Health is one of 22 medical schools nationwide that will receive a portion of the $12.1 million in grants that were allocated for this effort. These schools were chosen to implement COVID-19 FRCS based on of their research excellence and aggressive efforts to create an equitable and inclusive environment.

Across the entire workforce, the pandemic has intensified the burden of caring for others, typically borne by women and people of race. Science has been particularly severely affected which has put decades of progress in greater women’s representation in the early ranks of these fields at risk, according to an assessment by the National Academies of Science, and Medicine earlier this year.

Even before the outbreak research suggested that family caregiving challenges were a major factor in the loss of more than 40% of the early-career physician-faculty members at medical schools at the academic level within 10 years. This decline has been accelerated by COVID-19 which has reduced research productivity.

A National Academies survey of women faculty found that 58% of respondents were responsible for the majority of the child and elder care responsibility. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that these responsibilities have been more severe on researchers of ethnic minorities.

Fagerlin states “We’ve been working for a long time to increase the number of women working in science.” If nothing is done to help to balance their needs for caregiving with their research obligations during this pandemic, we could lose up to four generations of female scientists in the next few years. This would be a serious setback.

COVID-19 FRCS is based on the promising results of a similar project which was launched in the year 2015 by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Christopher Hill, Ph.D. Vice Dean for Research at U of U Health, says, “As an integrated medical center, our identity is defined by the people who comprise our community.” “I am thrilled that this prestigious award will augment our commitment to support a diverse and inclusive cadre of researchers that have been affected by the challenges of COVID.”

The American Heart Association supports COVID-19 at U of U Health in conjunction with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. This program promotes policies, practices and procedures at U.S. medical school that improve research productivity and help retain early-career faculty during the pandemic.

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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