Opinion by Fogarty Director Dr Roger I Glass
Cultivating the next generation of leaders in global health research is one of Fogarty’s key goals. Since 2004, we’ve been providing pre-doctoral “Scholars” and postdoctoral “Fellows” with support for a yearlong, hands-on, mentored research experience at an NIH-funded center overseas through the Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars. By 2012, the program had funded 558 U.S. and foreign trainees at 61 sites in 27 countries.
What impact has that had? A recent survey of participants tells part of the story. A representative sampling of 100 alumni were invited to complete an online questionnaire using a slider scale of 0-100 to measure the program’s impact on four aspects of their professional development. Ninety-four of them submitted their feedback.
The results show we’re having great success at influencing early-career scientists to pursue a global health research path. Interest in the field increased markedly during the training period, especially for alumni from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Median scores given by U.S. participants were 75 as they entered the program, increasing to 92 by its end. The more experienced Fellows expressed their interest at 100 as they exited. LMIC participants began with interest scores about 10 points below their U.S. peers, but rose to the low 90s at the conclusion. We firmly believe that by training LMIC scientists at their home institutions, we are greatly increasing the likelihood they will remain in-country, and not contribute to the problem of brain-drain.
The topic selected for the research experience was gauged as being quite influential for career prospects, with the more senior Fellows giving a 90 to 95 ranking, and the more junior Scholars scoring it at 80.
All groups considered the mentorship they received to be important, with median rankings between 80 and 91. Alumni also indicated their advisors heavily influenced their post-training decisions and career investment choices.
Almost half of the U.S. Scholars and 80 percent of the U.S. Fellows reported having returned to their training sites after completing the program. This shows we’re fostering international research collaborations that continue as careers progress, another Fogarty aim.
How successful are our alumni? The 94 providing data reported having submitted a total of 117 grant applications, with 79 of them receiving funding – a success rate of 67.5 percent! For some perspective, the current likelihood of an NIH application being funded is only 20 percent according to data from the NIH Office of Extramural Research.
We are fortunate the program continues to enjoy broad support across NIH, with additional funds coming from the NIH Office of the Director; Office of AIDS Research; National Cancer Institute (NCI); National Eye Institute (NEI); National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR); National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
I couldn’t be more delighted with the talent we are seeding and the spark and enthusiasm these newcomers bring to the field of global health research. Our experience shows us that these trainees will make contributions to medical research for years to come and become leaders along the way. I encourage you to read the full survey results using the link below.
This piece was originally published in the Full September / October 2015 Global Health Matters newsletter.