Barriers to racial/ethnic minority application and competition for NIH research funding

J Natl Med Assoc. 2005 Aug;97(8):1063-77.


Background: Despite recognition of the need to increase the pool of racial/ethnic minority investigators, racial/ethnic minority representation among National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigators remains low. Racial/ethnic minority investigators bring unique perspectives and experiences that enhance the potential for understanding factors that underlie racial/ethnic variation in health and health status. Identification of barriers to successful minority competition for NIH funding and suggestions for strategies to overcome them were obtained from a concept mapping project and a meeting of minority investigators and investigators at minority-serving institutions.

Methods: Concept mapping, a mixed-methods planning approach that integrates common data collection processes with multivariate statistical analyses, was used in this exploratory project. The concept mapping approach generated a series of related "concept maps" that were used for data interpretation and meeting discussions.

Results: Barriers to minority investigator competition for NIH funding identified by concept mapping participants include: (1) inadequate research infrastructure, training and development; (2) barriers to development as independent researchers; (3) inadequate mentoring; (4) insensitivity, misperceptions and miscommunication about the specific needs of investigators involved in research with minority communities; (5) institutional bias in NIH policies; (6) unfair competitive environment; (7) lack of institutional support; (8) lack of support for research topics/methods relevant to research with minority communities; and (9) social, cultural and environmental barriers.

Discussion: Data from both the concept mapping and the meeting discussions suggest the need to use a multilevel approach to increase minority representation among funded NIH investigators. Specifically, the NIH should use strategies that overcome barriers at the home institution, within NIH and at the investigator level.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Ethnicity*
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups*
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)*
  • Prejudice
  • Research Support as Topic*
  • United States