In alignment with the Presidential Executive Order that established a government-wide initiative to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the Federal workforce1 and the mission of the ORD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Workgroup, HSR&D has developed a comprehensive plan to promote a diverse workforce, inclusive work environment, and expand research related to equity in health services research.
HSR&D has been actively exploring innovative projects and funding mechanisms to address these aims and objectives to enhance DEI-related research, and to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce. There have been several accomplishments this year including a pilot by HSR&D’s Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research (CHOIR) (led by Dr. Keith McInnes) to introduce medical students from under-represented groups to VA health services research. Given the success of the pilot, this training and mentoring program is being expanded to permit additional medical students to gain experience in health services research with seasoned HSR&D mentors.
HSR&D is also strengthening the pipeline of up-and-coming researchers from under-represented groups interested in health services research. We are internally discussing and planning a new award mechanism to recognize the phenomenal work being conducted by early career investigators in health equity research. Last year’s Under Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research to Dr. Donna Washington for her incredible accomplishments in the fields of diversity, equity, and inclusion and women’s health was a great start but more is needed to promote and support investigators in the pipeline for their work in equity. A workgroup is being developed to further discuss the details of this new award for early career investigators including the objectives, selection criteria, overall review process, and timeline for this new award. Individuals interested in participating in this new award for early career investi-gators in equity may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to highlighting excellent researchers in the pipeline, additional funds should be committed to enhancing health equity research and a more diverse workforce. In collaboration with the ORD DEI Workgroup, HSR&D will be allocating additional funds to the ORD Minority Supplement Program for early career investigators from under-represented groups. Four out of 10 applicants who were awarded the ORD Minority Supplements are health services researchers. However, given the limited funds for this award, additional applications could not be awarded. To address this need, HSR&D will provide additional support for strong health services applicants who did not get funded through the ORD Minority Supplements.
Lastly, to enhance a more diverse workforce, inclusive work environment, and expand research related to equity in health services research, HSR&D will expand existing and develop new trainings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion for health services researchers. The DEI training plans are part of HSR&D’s overall plans to support all investigators who are interested in becoming better leaders, obtaining additional skills related to health services research, and mentoring early career investigators who are interested in research. We are particularly interested in exploring mechanisms to expand diversity among our health services researchers. One new idea generated by the HSR&D DEI Workgroup is the inclusion of personal narratives, or stories, of candidates for training programs such as the HSR&D Career Development awards. These stories can provide valuable and unique information beyond the applicants’ or mentors’ academic or research credentials. Inclusion of this type of personal information from training awards can better identify candidates with nontraditional histories and provide a better understanding of the paths they took that nurtured their interests in health services research. Much more work is needed to enhance DEI within health services research, and HSR&D fully supports new and innovative ideas such as these related to funding and training.
Naomi Tomoyasu, PhD, Deputy Director, HSR&D