Building the Pipeline and Plugging the Leaks: How We Grow and Support Talent in Science and Health Professions

Summer is a relaxing time for many, but in our department, we are active and energized, thanks to our Edmondson Summer Research Internship program.1  This year’s program is in full swing, and concludes with presentations by the interns on August 14 and 15.   Founded in 1982 by former department chair Murray Gardner, the Edmondson Internship program builds the next generation of scientists and health professionals by supporting talented college undergrads in mentored research experiences with our faculty.  The program also provides a broad view into academic healthcare through many opportunities to observe clinical activities in action.

I’m especially delighted that this year we were able to expand our program to 16 interns, our largest class ever, thanks to a partnership with Prep Medico2, a program within UCD Health’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion which is designed to expand diversity in medicine and increase the number of Latinos who choose to become physicians.  Our Edmondson interns are a diverse group in every way.  They represent many races and ethnicities, and join us from colleges and universities in seven different states, including three UC campuses (Berkeley, Davis, Merced), other public universities (University of Washington, University of Oregon), and private institutions (Boston College, Dominican University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle Pacific University, Texas Christian University, University of San Francisco).  Their interests are also diverse and inspiring.

The importance of our Edmondson program and our partnership with Prep Medico resonated with me while I was at the annual meeting of the Association of Pathology Chairs a few weeks ago.  As the chair of the Leadership Development and Diversity Committee, I had the honor of inviting our keynote speaker Hannah Valantine MD, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) first Chief Officer for Scientific Diversity. Dr. Valantine recently shared the importance of mentored experiences, like our Edmondson program, in a perspective articles with NIH Director Francis Collins:

“A number of factors have been shown to contribute to the lack of diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers in general and in biomedical research in particular —among them are limited infrastructure and research experiences…. Observational studies suggest that intense research experiences coupled with self reported ‘effective mentoring’ are essential for persistence in biomedical research careers.”3

In her talk at the Association of Pathology Chairs meeting and in her article, Dr. Valantine noted that the pipeline in medical science has long included a substantial number of women and under-represented minorities, but that we are losing much of this talent at key career transition points.  She comments:

“It is also important for us to investigate scientifically the various persistent barriers that frustrate sustainable change in diversity outcomes. In particular, it is time to look more deeply at psychological and interpersonal factors that have significant impacts individual and institutional levels of biomedicine.” 3

Psychological and interpersonal factors that affect career trajectories in academic medicine were identified in my own research on attitudes and use of career flexibility policies here at UC Davis and recently published in the American Journal of Medicine.4   Flexibility policies, such as family leaves, are intended to support retention of faculty in academic medicine, especially women, by alleviating the pressure to “do it all”.  But my colleagues and I found that few use these policies, chiefly due to concern about burdening colleagues and because of fear that others – including their department chairs — will perceive them as not serious about their careers.  Ironically, concern about these barriers increased following an educational intervention about policies, and likely reflects conflict between personal identity (wanting to be a “good” parent/spouse/family member) and the professional identity espoused in lay culture and the “hidden curriculum” of academia in which “good” physicians and scientists demonstrate extreme devotion to their students, patients, or research.  I’ll be sharing findings from this study at grand rounds in our department on August 21, and as a visiting scholar at the University of Minnesota’s Women in Leadership program in September.  I look forward to the feedback and thoughts of others following these presentations.  And if you want to check out the publication on-line and share your comments on this blog, I’d love to hear what you think, too.

I’m very proud that many graduates of our Edmondson Summer Research Internship program have gone on to masters and PhD graduate school programs, medical school, clinical laboratory science training, and a few of our Edmondson alums have even joined the faculty and staff here at UC Davis.  Our students enrich our lives just as much as we enrich theirs.  I hope that the culture of academic medicine and science can grow to be fully supportive through mentorship and excellent role models so that academic health centers and medical schools can recruit and retain these talented students and the many others studying at colleges and universities nationwide, and prevent their loss along the leaky career pipeline that exists today.



  3. Valantine HA, Collins FS. National Institutes of Health addresses the science of diversity. PNAS 2015; 112: 11240-12242.
  4. Howell LP, Beckett LA, Villablanca A. Ideal worker and professional identity: perspectives from a career flexibility educational intervention. Am J Med 2017, e-pub ahead of press.
By | 2017-07-31T18:17:06+00:00 August 1, 2017|0 Comments

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