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Team approach

March 2011

by Rosanne Fohn

Carrie Jo Braden, Ph.D., RN, FAAN
Carrie Jo Braden, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, with an interschool team of faculty members, is managing a study that will bring together graduate students and faculty from across the Health Science Center and The University of Texas at Houstonís School of Public Health to develop diverse, interprofessional research teams. The effort is funded by a four-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Science.
Despite nearly 40 years of encouraging more students from diverse backgrounds to become research scientists, the number of Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans and other non-whites conducting biomedical and behavioral research in the U.S. is still low.*

This means that as the U.S. population continues to become more diverse, millions of people may not be represented in this field.

Minority groups are often at a disadvantage regarding their health due to poverty, genetic risk factors and access to care. As a result, they are frequently at higher risk for such health issues as obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular problems.

"Little is known about the factors that strongly influence minorities to pursue a clinical research career," said Carrie Jo Braden, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, associate dean for research in the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

That is why the experienced researcher is leading a complex study to identify what factors motivate graduate students from diverse backgrounds to become career scientists. The study, called "Mechanisms for Enhancing Scholarly Achievements," or MESA, is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of General Medical Science, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The four-year study, which began in fall 2010, involves recruiting 250 graduate students from all backgrounds over four semesters from the schools of nursing, medicine, dentistry and health professions, and from The University of Texas at Houston School of Public Health, which has a regional campus in San Antonio.

The students will be randomly assigned to two groups: one that will learn about research careers and the other that will be the comparison group. The study will evaluate the studentís attitudes towards entering research careers and which interventions are the most successful.

Both groups will receive tuition assistance to take 10 units of elective credit, plus small, periodic incentives for participation. However, students in the research group will take a specific track of electives including courses introducing them to the research environment, participation on interprofessional research teams led by faculty mentors and a scholarís seminar. The teams will conduct research on health topics of importance to diverse populations and will include a community mentor when possible.

"We hope to demystify what having a research career is like and to show what a positive experience it can be," Dr. Braden said. "Many students are attracted to health-related careers because they want to help others or give back to their community. I like to tell them about my experience as a clinical nurse and researcher," Dr. Braden said. "I have probably helped hundreds of patients in my clinical career, but I have impacted the lives of thousands of people through my research."

The project is set up to ease many of the stresses involved in team dynamics. Team leaders andmentors will receive training in how to encourage inclusiveness and feedback ó a model of leadership recommended by the Institute of Medicine and already being advanced in clinical care to improve patient safety and the quality of care.

The studyís leadership team includes 12 faculty members. Six are from the School of Nursing and include faculty with expertise in creating healthier work and neighborhood environments that promote inclusiveness and group governance; faculty whose mentoring programs provide support for at-risk students; and faculty who conduct research involving diverse populations.

The interprofessional aspect of the study supports the Institute of Medicineís recommendation to provide experiences that mirror what is found in the clinical workplace, where teams from different health professions - and different perspectives - work together to provide care.

"With this great team of experts from throughout the Health Science Center and School of Public Health, I am confident that we will gain a better understanding of what influences studentsí interest in entering research," Dr. Braden said. "My hope is that even if students do not decide to become career scientists they will at least consider combining it with their clinical or teaching careers."

* Source: Understanding Interventions That Encourage Minorities to Pursue Research Careers: Summary of a Workshop by Steven Olson and Adam P. Fagen, editors, National Research Council

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