Media Contacts

Doug Dollemore

Senior Science Writer, University of Utah Health
Email: doug.dollemore@hsc.utah.edu
Phone: 801-707-5706

Nov 17, 2021 1:30 PM

stressed out scientist in lab
A set of new grants will help early-career scientists at University of Utah Health to revitalize their research while also tending to the needs of their families. Photo credit: Getty Images

To learn more about applying for Utah Caregiver Assistance for Reserachers in Early Stages (U-CARES) funding, visit this website.

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 School of Medicine and four through the Department of Internal Medicine.

“For early-career scientists, particularly women and individuals of color, the first few years in their research careers are very challenging,” 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. “The COVID-19 pandemic has just served to worsen that situation.”

“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,” Ruben says. “These funds will help prevent faculty from falling too far behind while still allowing them to attend to their family responsibilities."

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 been especially hard hit, putting at risk decades of gain in greater representation of women in the early ranks of these fields, according to a report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, 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 setback.”

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 provides leading-edge and compassionate care for a referral area that encompasses 10 percent of the US, including Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and much of Nevada. A hub for health sciences research and education in the region, U of U Health touts a $428 million research enterprise and trains the majority of Utah’s physicians, including more than 1,460 health care providers each year at its Colleges of Health, Nursing, and Pharmacy and Schools of Dentistry and Medicine. With more than 20,000 employees, the system includes 12 community clinics and five hospitals. For 11 straight years, U of U Health has ranked among the top 10 US academic medical centers in the rigorous Vizient Quality and Accountability Study.

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