The population of older adults in the United States is the largest and most racially and ethnically diverse the nation has ever known, and these trends are expected to continue or accelerate. To meet the increased healthcare needs of a diverse older adult population, it is important that the healthcare workforce represent the diversity of this population. A diverse healthcare workforce is important to expand healthcare access for underserved populations and to enrich the pool of leaders and policymakers with unique insights into and familiarity with the diverse healthcare needs of our aging population. This is especially true for clinical research, since researchers often rely on personal experience as they formulate and seek to answer research questions. Thus, broader representation of underrepresented minority leaders in the clinical research workforce can help ensure that research priorities appropriately address the needs of older minority groups. Despite the recognized need for a diverse clinical research workforce, students from underrepresented groups face significant barriers to pursuing training in clinical research for older adults. Students from underrepresented groups encounter financial, informational and cultural challenges that limit their interest and participation in medicine overall. Moreover, students from underrepresented groups may be less likely to pursue training in clinical research for older adults if they do not perceive such research as relevant to their lives. The University of Chicago (UC) is a leader in training future clinical researchers from underrepresented backgrounds, with a specific focus on aging through several NIA research training programs designed for students at different training levels. These training programs expose students to formal didactic curricula in aging and clinical research, multi-tiered mentorship teams that conduct clinical research in aging, and realistic career experiences in clinical research and aging. Our NIGMS-funded pipeline program for underrepresented Chicago public high school students has successfully increased the interest and intent in pursuing a career clinical research. Our NIA programs for medical students have successfully improved interest in aging research careers and research productivity of those trainees (i.e., publications and awards). Building on the success of our programs for diverse high school and medical students, we will leverage our experience training learners in aging research to build the Cultivating Health & Aging Researchers by Integrating Science, Medicine & Aging (CHARISMA) program, a structured longitudinal multi-tiered mentored aging-related research training program for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds. The objectives of CHARISMA are 1) to prepare undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds for medicine, science, engineering, technology and mathematics (MSTEM) careers in aging-related clinical research, and 2) to increase and sustain learner satisfaction, aging-related research knowledge, attitudes toward aging-related clinical research careers, and behaviors associated with pursuing an aging-related research career in an MSTEM field among underrepresented undergraduates.
The Cultivating Health & Aging Researchers by Integrating Science, Medicine & Aging (CHARISMA) program is a structured longitudinal multi-tiered mentored aging-related research training program for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds. CHARISMA aims to train underrepresented undergraduate students for an MSTEM career in aging-related clinical research through: 1) a didactic curriculum structured to generate interest in and the provision of knowledge necessary to pursue an MSTEM career in aging-related research, 2) exposure to a multi-tiered structure of mentorship that enables identification of multi-level aging-related clinical research role models that can facilitate career choice, 3) participation in realistic career activities that actively challenge and engage students to develop attitudes and behaviors relevant for aging-related clinical research.