February 14, 2023

NIH efforts to address structural racism in biomedical research enterprise align with NASEM report

Today, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a report that makes recommendations for advancing antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) organizations. I thank NASEM for their thoughtful report that identifies conditions that create systemic barriers and impede the full talent pool from pursuing and advancing in STEMM careers. NIH provided funding for the report to help inform NIH’s ongoing efforts to improve the diversity of the scientific workforce and address structural racism in biomedical research.

We know that bringing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets to complex scientific problems enhances scientific productivity. While people across racial and ethnic backgrounds show equal interest in STEMM fields at the onset of undergraduate education, that balance of interest diminishes in people from historically marginalized communities by the time of graduation. This results in a lack of diversity of undergraduates with STEMM degrees, and strongly contributes to the lack of diversity in the biomedical research workforce.

NIH has long supported programs to improve the diversity of the scientific workforce with the goal of harnessing the complete intellectual capital of the nation. Additionally, NIH publicly launched the UNITE Initiative in February 2021 to address structural racism in biomedical research. The goals of the UNITE Initiative are aligned with the report’s recommendations. NIH recently issued the first UNITE Progress Report outlining accomplishments of the initiative such as increasing investments by nearly $500 million over the next 10 years to address structural racism; increasing transparency of NIH race and ethnicity data of NIH grant recipients; expanding grant programs and funding to enhance faculty and student diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at higher education institutions; requiring all NIH Institutes and Centers to develop plans to enhance equity for all; and much more.

The NASEM report provides recommendations that should help sustain attention and resources to change systems, policies, and cultures that would yield equitable scientific environments that develop a full range of talents, abilities, perspectives, and experiences.

Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Performing the Duties of the Director, NIH