Underrepresented minorities (URM) are the fastest growing populations in the US but make up only a small percentage of the biomedical research workforce. This disconnect is particularly acute in biomedical graduate programs where URM students accounted for just 7% of PhD degrees over the past decade. Furthermore, significantly more URM students complete a master?s degree (MS) en route to their doctorate than non-URMs, identifying URM MS programs as an important pool from which to recruit minority PhD candidates. Consistent with these national trends, self assessments at Towson University (TU) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), the MS- and PhD-granting partner institutions in this Bridges to the Doctorate (B2D) program, revealed that just 17% of thesis-MS students at TU who advanced to PhD programs are URMs, and that minority enrollment in UMSOM PhD programs has been constant at 13% despite increases in URM applications. These data highlight the need for training that will prepare URM students to compete for admission into top doctoral programs, and succeed in transitioning from MS to PhD programs to complete the doctorate. Towards this goal, the TU-UMSOM B2D will integrate the strong TU MS program and rich research resources at the UMSOM with B2D-specific activities in an innovative curriculum of minority-focused training and mentoring that is organized into four components. 1) MS thesis research is conducted at TU in conjunction with interdisciplinary courses and cutting edge technologies at UMSOM to provide B2D scholars with PhD-level classroom and laboratory experience. 2) Essential research-related skills such as written and oral scientific communication are developed in workshops, seminars and scholars? research presentations at professional meetings. 3) Guidance in all facets of academic advancement into PhD programs is provided through activities including GRE training and mock interviews. TU and UMSOM faculty committees mentor scholars in the preparation of individual development plans to monitor progress towards milestones and career goals. 4) B2D scholars closely interact with trainees in a robust pipeline of URM training programs at B2D partner and affiliated institutions. Research forums and professional development workshops feature discussions on workforce diversity and healthcare disparities led by URM faculty. Near-peer mentoring and URM role models in this unique training pipeline provide B2D scholars with a minority-focused perspective of the path to a career in the biomedical profession. The proximity of TU and UMSOM campuses facilitates implementation of the broad array of joint training activities. B2D scholars will be actively recruited from strong local and national URM training programs and undergraduate institutions through internet, social media, mail and in person approaches. The professional development of B2D scholars as they progress from MS to PhD programs and beyond will be tracked as an important metric of program success. All aspects of the B2D will be critically evaluated by internal and external review. B2D training will thus enhance diversity in the biomedical workforce.
The positive impact of workforce diversity on innovation in biomedical research and addressing public health disparities is well established; however, underrepresented minority (URM) groups comprise a small percentage of the biomedical workforce. Achieving a biomedical workforce that reflects the increasing diversity of our population is essential to meet growing science and technology demands in the US and remains an important challenge. Towards this goal, the Bridges to the Doctorate (B2D) partnership between Towson University (TU) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) will create a supportive minority-focused training program in which URM students gain critical research and professional skills while completing their Master's degree at TU. This B2D training will prepare students for the successful transition from MS to PhD programs and completion of the doctorate at UMSOM and other institutions nationwide. The TU-UMSOM B2D will thus increase URM representation in the biomedical profession and enhance diversity in this workforce.