Building the Pipeline in Academics
March is an exciting month in academic pediatrics and other subspecialties. As we prepare and submit our rank lists for our residencies and reflect on a busy season of interviews it is a good time to reflect on the future of academic work in child health research.
Key to this future is a pipeline of trainees who have a passion for inquiry and the desire to make an impact in Child Health. Over the last 30 years the proportion of physicians engaged in significant amounts of scholarly research in pediatrics has decreased from 5% to 1.5% , with a shrinking number of NIH awards going to an aging investigator population. With a majority of NIH awards going to full professors over age 50 [1,2], it can be difficult to strive for decades towards NIH funding, a career goal that is statistically more difficult each decade to achieve. The pipeline over the last two decades has leaked talented investigators at multiple career points.
Additionally, and importantly, underrepresented minorities often can’t gain access into medicine or entry into academic pipelines, leaving gaping holes in our talent pool of future academic physicians and scientific investigators. This exclusion of underrepresented minority (URM) scholars impedes our ability to engage and understand important aspects of our population and culture. 
CHRI is actively working to develop a diverse and inclusive pipeline of child health educators, starting with supporting Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) students to work with 15 of our investigators across CHRI. These young students are eager for research experiences, and historically SURP students have proceeded to enroll in UNMC graduate programs – several have even entered our Pediatric Residency program. We also actively encourage faculty in the College of Medicine to work with the Medical Student Summer Research Program for first- and second-year medical students.
Additional programming and agreements enable us to engage with UNO and Creighton students, and to offer younger learners an early introduction to health science research in collaboration with local programs like Girls Inc. Omaha. Outreach like this encourages young scientists from diverse backgrounds to see themselves in these roles and to prepare themselves for the appropriate training pathways.
Graduate Medical Education support is also critical to the success of the CHRI pipeline of development. Residents and fellows are eligible to apply for CHRI grants up to $15,000 if they have applied for membership in CHRI and are working with a CHRI faculty sponsor/mentor. We actively encourage faculty to work with trainees and help facilitate active learning on the trainees’ own projects.
Development doesn’t end when potential investigators enter as junior faculty. The first years of a faculty member’s career are critical for establishing a research agenda and continuing skill building and development of research acumen. CHRI is an active sponsor of junior faculty through our mentored CHRI Scholar’s Program, and our CHRI grants at $15,000 and $50,000 levels. These grants are designed to help applicants learn the NIH grant writing process and obtain preliminary data for initial publications and extramural grants submissions. The CHRI Grant Review Committee provides detailed comments intended to serve as feedback and education to improve grantsmanship for resubmissions or future grants.
Our faculty are encouraged to participate in one or more Areas of Emphasis to work with collaborative groups to achieve early success in research and learn the processes necessary to shape a clinical question into a developed hypothesis with research aims and preliminary data that set the stage for funding and publication.
Faculty development programming, including the CHRI-sponsored Pediatrics Academic Workshop, the CHRI Pediatric Research Forum and upcoming joint sessions on research mentoring, grant writing and more, are available to help our faculty build and develop skills at all stages of their research career. CHRI resources can be utilized to support faculty promotions, in career development, in clinical questions that call for research in your area, and for personal growth and satisfaction.
We are actively working with the Department of Pediatrics Anti-Racism Committee and engaging university-wide to ensure that we are addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in our student and faculty recruitment, educational offerings, and study design and recruitment. While we have a long way to go to implement the ideas and necessary actions, having an active plan and starting now with what we can do will help us to close the significant gaps that exist within our organization and nationally.
Our goal is to support you and your work in child health research. It’s never too late to participate in academic endeavors. CHRI works to meet our pipeline of investigators where they need us. Please continue to give us feedback regarding how we can best serve you and your trainees to improve child health.
Today’s children can’t wait for tomorrow’s innovations.
- Patching the pipeline: creation and retention of the next generation of physician-scientists for child health research. Cornfield DN, Lane R, Rosenblum ND, Hostetter M, Jobe A, Albertine K, Aschner J, Abman SH. J Pediatr. 2014 Nov;165(5):882-4.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.07.037.
- Expanding the Pipeline for Pediatric Physician-Scientists. Dermody TS, Hirsch R, Hostetter MK, Orange JS, St Geme JW 3rd. J Pediatr. 2019 Apr;207:3-7.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2019.01.025.
- Dixon G, Kind T, Wright J, Stewart N, Sims A, Barber A. Factors That Influence the Choice of Academic Pediatrics by Underrepresented Minorities. Pediatrics. 2019 Aug;144(2):e20182759. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-2759.