VP&S Receives Grant to Support Early-Career Biomedical Researchers Impacted by Caregiving Responsibilities

November 17, 2021

The Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is one of 22 U.S. medical schools chosen to share $12.1 million in grants to support early-career faculty whose productivity was adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each school will receive $550,000 to counteract the losses in academic productivity experienced by young faculty members whose family caregiving responsibilities grew during the pandemic and contributed to career slowdowns.

Anne Taylor, MD
Anne Taylor

The grants were announced today by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in concert with the American Heart Association, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Rita Allen Foundation.

VP&S plans to use the $550,000 to support early-career faculty whose work has been impacted by COVID-19 by providing supplemental support for their research, such as hiring administrative personnel, statisticians, and technicians.

“The past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown clearly that caregiving, either for children or for elders, can profoundly impact career development,” says Anne Taylor, MD, VP&S vice dean for academic affairs, whose team submitted Columbia’s application. “This is a particularly devastating situation for physician-scientists, who must manage demands from clinical practice and also sustain a competitive and meaningful research program funded by external agencies with inflexible time limits.”

This grant will not only have immediate impact, Taylor says, it also will be an opportunity for the group of medical schools receiving grants to identify which actions are most effective to accomplish the necessary changes to their institutions.

VP&S applied for the funding through the foundations’ COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists competition, the nation’s largest funding collaborative advancing equity in the biomedical sciences. The fund is designed to support the strengthening of policies, practices, and processes at U.S. medical schools to advance the research productivity and retention of early-career faculty experiencing expanded family caregiving responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is now critical to use the pandemic experience, as well as pre-COVID data showing the impact of caregiving on women’s careers, to acknowledge, normalize, and create enduring interventions to mitigate the impact of caregiver responsibilities on faculty researchers during more normal times,” says Taylor.

The pandemic has exacerbated the caregiving demands too often borne disproportionately by women and people of color, the funders say, and the sciences have been especially hard hit, putting decades of gains in greater representation of women in the early ranks of these fields at risk.

“COVID-19 brought us face-to-face, or Zoom-to-Zoom, with the caregiving demands so many face,” says Sam Gill, CEO and president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “This is a crisis for biomedical science—but it can be an opportunity. These medical schools are leading the way in seizing the urgency of the moment to challenge business as usual and to commit to innovative approaches that will assure a more inclusive, equitable future across the biomedical sciences.”

In announcing the $550,000 grants, the collaborative cited the stark effects of COVID-19 on caregivers in biomedicine as an opportunity for the biomedical sciences to better support faculty who identify as women and/or as members of communities of color, including Black and Indigenous people, and remove systemic barriers to their advancement.

“The 22 medical schools chosen...all feature a strong body of research, aggressive efforts to provide a more equitable and inclusive environment for faculty and students, and a commitment to further advancing such efforts,” said the collaborative in a press release. “The wide demand for this program, as evidenced by the sizable applicant pool, confirms the time is now for medical schools to rethink and reimagine how they accommodate researchers during periods of outsized family caregiving needs.”

Taylor says the loss of productivity during COVID-19 and its aftermath has the potential to reverse the gains in rank and leadership status made by women and underrepresented faculty, resulting in a significant impact on academic medicine. “VP&S faculty, at work in the nation’s first COVID epicenter, were severely impacted by caregiving responsibilities. Schools and day care centers were closed, teaching was online, and our young physician-scientists had greatly increased clinical loads while research facilities, other than those doing COVID research, were effectively shuttered,” she says.

Nancy S. Green, MD, professor of pediatrics at CUMC, is program director for the grant. Clara Lapiner, MPH, assistant vice president for faculty development, diversity, and inclusion, will support administration and evaluation of the program.

“Among the many lessons we learned during the pandemic,” says Anil Rustgi, MD, interim executive vice president and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, “was how fragile the support systems were for early career faculty with young families and/or elder care responsibilities. This grant will help us to think creatively about support for faculty that promotes inclusivity in biomedical research and to find ways to bring about cultural change in academic medicine to become more inclusive, especially of faculty with caregiving responsibilities.”

 

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More information

Anyone who has questions about this opportunity or is interested in applying for support may email the Office of Academic Affairs.

Anne L. Taylor, MD, is the John Lindenbaum Professor of Medicine at CUMC within the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; senior vice president for faculty affairs and career development at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center; and vice dean for academic affairs at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.