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Nearly two years after COVID-19 was first reported in the United States, the ripple effects of the pandemic are disrupting biomedical research, particularly among young scientists who are reconsidering their career choices as they try to cope with expanded family caregiving responsibilities due to the disease.

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 tend to the needs of their families.

U of U Health has committed matching funds in 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 early-career scientists, zoloft and pmdd particularly women and individuals of color, the first few years in their research careers are very challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has just served to worsen that situation,” says Angela Fagerlin, Ph.D., professor and chair in the Department of Population Health Sciences, who is co-leading the COVID-19 FRCS in Utah with Michael A. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair for Faculty Affairs and Development at Department of Internal Medicine.

“A lot of these scientists haven’t been able to do their typical amount of research in the past two years because of the additional strains of having to devote much of their time to caring for themselves and others,” Fagerlin says. “Hopefully, this program will help them make up for lost time.”

Each of the U of U Health early-career scientists selected will receive about $50,000 to assist their quest to advance science while coping with family issues that arose during the pandemic. This support includes hiring “extra hands” such as adding administrative personnel, statisticians, and technicians to work in their labs

Too many people are leaving the workforce or seeing their progress slow to a halt because of the pandemic. These funds will help faculty from falling too far behind while still allowing them to attend to their family responsibilities."

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 to receive a portion of the $12.1 million in grants allocated for this effort. The institutions were chosen to implement COVID-19 FRCS because of their strong body of research, aggressive efforts to provide a more equitable and inclusive environment for faculty and students, and commitment to further advancing such efforts.

Across the entire workforce, the pandemic has exacerbated the caregiving demands often borne disproportionately by women and people of color. The sciences have especially been hard hit, putting decades of gain in greater representation of women in the early ranks of these fields at risk, according to a report by the National Academies of Science, and Medicine earlier this year.

Even before the pandemic, studies suggested that family caregiving challenges were a likely contributor to the loss of more than 40% of early-career physician-faculty members at academic medical schools within 10 years. COVID-19 has only worsened this attrition and decimated research productivity.

A National Academies’ survey of women faculty found that, due to COVID-19, 58% of respondents were shouldering a majority of child and elder care responsibilities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that researchers of color have also been more deeply affected by such demands.

“We’ve been trying for years to get more women into science,” Fagerlin says. Unless something is done to help balance their caregiving needs with their research obligations during this pandemic, we could lose up to four generations of talented women scientists in the coming years. That would be a significant set back.”

COVID-19 FRCS builds on the promising outcomes of a similar initiative launched in 2015 by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

“As an integrated academic medical center, we are defined by the individual people who form our community,” says Christopher Hill, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research at U of U Health. “I am delighted that this prestigious award will augment our institutional commitment to supporting a diverse and inclusive cadre of researchers that have been impacted by the challenges of COVID.”

COVID-19 FRCS at U of U Health is supported by the American Heart Association in conjunction with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the Walder Foundation. The program is designed to promote policies, practices, and processes at U.S. medical schools that advance research productivity and retention of early-career faculty during the pandemic.

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University of Utah Health

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