Objective 4: Enhance the Complementary and Integrative Health Research Workforce

NCCIH 2021 Strategic Plan Objective 4

Researchers from many different biomedical and behavioral disciplines are key to further advancing basic, mechanistic, translational, and clinical research in complementary approaches and their integration into health care. Over the years, NCCIH has targeted resources to attract well-trained and experienced scientists and clinicians into complementary and integrative health research, supporting their development as scientific leaders in the field. NCCIH will continue to promote strategies to enhance diversity of the workforce, enhance the clinician-scientist pathway at both the individual and institutional levels, and enhance the transition of Research Career Development (K) awardees to an independent research career.

NCCIH supports research training and career development programs to increase the number and diversity of well-trained scientists to conduct rigorous complementary and integrative health research. We have special opportunities for individuals from groups who are underrepresented in scientific research (e.g., racial and ethnic minority populations) throughout the continuum from high school to faculty. In addition, we support workshops at NIH and at scientific conferences to help students and fellows connect to NIH funding opportunities, understand how to interact with NIH staff to develop research proposals, navigate the NIH peer review process successfully, develop resilience to overcome career roadblocks, and develop plans for a successful research career. We attend a wide variety of scientific conferences that include targeted outreach to societies with a focus on individuals from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences.

STRATEGIES

Strategy 1: Support research training and career development opportunities to increase the diversity and number of well-trained scientists conducting rigorous, cutting-edge research on complementary and integrative health practices.

NCCIH supports a range of research training and career development programs aimed at increasing the number and diversity of well-prepared, skilled investigators with knowledge and expertise in both complementary and integrative health and state-of-the-art research methods. Because complementary and integrative health approaches include a wide variety of modalities, NCCIH’s training strategies must include innovative approaches that incorporate an understanding of this diversity to ensure that future research workforce needs for the various modalities as well as combinations of these modalities are met.

In particular, the Center will focus on:

  • Individuals from groups who are underrepresented in biomedical, clinical, or behavioral and social science research (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities or other populations described in the Notice of NIH’s Interest in Diversity) and are interested in careers in complementary and integrative health research.
  • Clinician-scientists, including conventionally trained physicians, complementary health practitioners, and other professionals (e.g., clinical psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, art and/or music therapists), especially those who are currently underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral scientific research.
  • Scientists trained in key biomedical and behavioral research disciplines necessary for rigorous, state-of-the-art scientific investigation of complementary and integrative health approaches, practices, and disciplines.

Strategy 2: Foster interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships at individual and institutional levels.

As science has advanced, the research enterprise has become increasingly interdisciplinary, requiring teams of investigators with different areas of expertise. Clinician-scientists with both clinical and research expertise play an important role in advancing translational science and provide unique perspectives to biomedical research informed by patient care. However, the path toward becoming a clinician-scientist is not easy and may be particularly challenging for complementary and integrative health clinicians because of diverse credentialing standards and varying opportunities to engage in research prior to/during clinical training.

At the individual level, NCCIH supports multiple interdisciplinary opportunities for training of clinician-scientists. For example, NCCIH has partnered with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to provide a research career development pathway for complementary and integrative health clinician-scientists to join career development cohorts of other types of clinician-scientists and will continue to support this.

To promote interdisciplinary collaborations at the institutional level, NCCIH is exploring models to support partnerships across different complementary and integrative institutions, disciplines, and systems with research-intensive institutions, with the goal of increasing the number of complementary and integrative clinicians included as collaborative partners in research projects. For example, we are discussing the creation of a virtual resource center (university without walls) to provide research support (e.g., networking, mentoring, conceptual grant development, central Institutional Review Board, statistical and research design) to investigators based at schools of acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, naturopathy, physical therapy, and music and art therapy.

In addition to focusing on interdisciplinary collaborations to promote the clinician-scientist pathway, NCCIH encourages interdisciplinary training opportunities within our funded training and career development awards. We also support cross-training opportunities at the mid-career level to promote the development of interdisciplinary research teams. NCCIH will also foster interdisciplinary research collaborations between research-intensive institutions and institutions that have a historical mission or a demonstrated commitment to educating students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce. We will identify best practices to continually improve the quality of NCCIH workforce development activities.

Evidence-based approaches should be used by programs to monitor and improve the recruitment and training of complementary and integrative health scientists at all levels. NCCIH encourages funded research training and education programs to develop and evaluate their practices. To ensure maximum return on its research training investment, the Center encourages programs to disseminate training practices that have proven to be effective. We will perform regular evaluations of NCCIH-led training and career development activities using appropriate performance markers for each activity.

NCCIH will focus on:

  • Identifying and addressing barriers to the creation of a highly skilled and diverse research workforce
  • Piloting and evaluating new approaches for workforce development
  • Exploring approaches to speed the trajectory from trainee status to independent researcher