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Over 530 members of Salud America! endorsed our public comment to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in their Request for Information (RFI) on how to advance racial equity and diversity within the biomedical research workforce, as well as advancing research on health inequities.
Other organizations like the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Council On Governmental Relations, and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology also submitted comments.
The RFI was open for comment from March 1 to April 23, 2021.
At Salud America!, we believe that increasing diversity among research leaders and clinical trial participants will help achieve true health equity, especially for populations disproportionately impacted by health issues and COVID-19, like the Latino population.
That’s why we submitted a comment from our leader, Dr. Amelie Ramirez.
Dr. Amelie Ramirez’s Comment on Advancing Racial Equity and Diversity
Dr. Amelie Ramirez, Director of Salud America! and of the Institute of Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio, submitted the following comment to NIH on how to advance racial equity and diversity in biomedical research:
Increasing racial equity and diversity in the biomedical research workforce will help us achieve true health equity, particularly for marginalized groups like Latinos, who suffer from disproportionate health issues due to historic systemic racism, discrimination, and implicit bias in the healthcare system. Diversity in the biomedical research workforce can be addressed twofold: increasing diversity in higher education for medical degrees and addressing systemic racism and implicit bias within healthcare and clinical trials.
To increase diversity in medical schools, there must be an interest and awareness for a career medicine early on. This can be addressed through mentorship programs, internships, and fellowships that NIH funds with under-resourced communities, increased financial aid for minority students seeking higher education, and organizations that support minority students once in medical school. NIH should support programs that address the lack of diversity in the doctoral and research fields, such as the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program, which significantly increased Latino and Latino-focused trainees’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy (https://salud.to/exitostudy).
Systemic racism and implicit bias are ingrained in the healthcare field, but steps can be taken to address this. A study in JAMA network found that while 45% of Latino and Black physicians experienced racial epithets or refusal of care from patients, 84% did not report discriminatory instances to their leadership, indicating a lack of support or resources for minority physicians (https://salud.to/physicianbias). Interpersonal training on implicit bias and establishing a support system in instances of bias and racism will help address this. One particular tool is the Salud America! implicit bias action pack (https://salud.to/seebias).
Additionally, steps must be taken to address the large racial/ethnic gap in clinical trials and research. Latinos represent 18.5% of the U.S. population, but are less than 10% of those in federal cancer and drug studies. With the use of culturally relevant digital health communications, advocacy networks, and clinical partnerships, we can reach more diverse communities that are often left out of trials and research.
What Happens Next?
Now that the comment submission period has ended, the NIH will review comments and incorporate feedback into future planning and funding.
As they asked for comments that could be implemented in the next three to six months as well as next few years, they will likely incorporate some of the feedback in short term and require more planning for the long term goals.
In the meantime, you can help advance health equity at the local level.
Download a Health Equity Report Card!
The Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio lets you see many local children are living in poverty and food deserts, what access to education and healthcare your neighbors have, and how many households get access to SNAP food benefits.
Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to address inequities where help is needed most!