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A collaborative effort led by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation will support more than 250 early-career biomedical researchers at 22 medical schools leading the way in cultivating, retaining and supporting a diverse research workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. The principal investigator is Amelia Drake, MD. At the UNC School of Medicine, Susan Girdler, PhD, is co-PI.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), in concert with the American Heart Association, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Walder Foundation, announced the 22 medical schools receiving $12.1 million in grants through the COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists (FRCS) competition. As the nation’s largest funding collaborative advancing equity in the biomedical sciences, the COVID-19 FRCS 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 mushrooming family caregiving responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each school will receive $500,000 over two years.

At the UNC School of Medicine, this effort is led by Amelia Drake, MD, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and the Newton D. Fischer Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, and Susan Girdler, PhD, Vice Chair of Faculty Development, Professor of Psychiatry, and Director of the Stress and Health Research Program. Drs. Drake and Girdler serve as Co-Directors for the Caregivers at Carolina Program that supports physician scientists facing substantial caregiving demands at home. More information about the Caregivers at Carolina Program is available here.

“We are trying to support a culture of caregiving at the UNC School of Medicine and are happy that we have been awarded the additional support from this DDRF Covid Fund to be able to do so during this time,” Dr. Drake said.

Susan Girdler, PhD

Dr. Girdler added, “These types of programs underscore that our faculty are not just workers; they have lived experiences outside the workplace that can impact their productivity. Being able to acknowledge and support our faculty during transient times when their family caregiving demands are high is absolutely critical if we are to recruit and retain diverse physician scientists”.

The funds from this COVID-19 research supplement will go directly to supporting the on-going clinical research of eligible physician scientists, such as hiring a research assistant, to provide a buffer against the impact of the pandemic on the scientists’ productivity.

Building on the promising outcomes of a similar program launched by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2015, these new awards provide vital support to allow hundreds of contributors to scientific discovery keep their important work on track while directly tending to the needs of their families.

Across the entire workforce, the pandemic has exacerbated the caregiving demands too often borne disproportionately by women and people of color. 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. As documented in a report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine earlier this year, “COVID-19 has negatively affected the productivity, boundary setting and boundary control, networking and community building, and mental well-being of women in academic STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine)”.

An announcement requesting applications for the COVID-19 supplemental funds will be forthcoming. If faculty members have questions, they can contact Drs. Amelia Drake or Susan Girdler.

To learn more about the COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists and the 2021 grantees, visit the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s website.