Strengthening research capacity through an intensive training program for biomedical investigators from low- and middle-income countries: the Vanderbilt Institute for Research Development and Ethics (VIRDE)

BMC Med Educ. 2022 Feb 14;22(1):97. doi: 10.1186/s12909-022-03162-8.


Background: Capacity strengthening initiatives aimed at increasing research knowledge and skills of investigators in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have been implemented over the last several decades. With increased capacity, local investigators will have greater leadership in defining research priorities and impact policy change to help improve health outcomes. Evaluations of models of capacity strengthening programs are often limited to short-term impact. Noting the limitations of traditional output-based evaluations, we utilized a broader framework to evaluate the long-term impact of the Vanderbilt Institute in Research Development and Ethics (VIRDE), a decade-old intensive grant development practicum specifically tailored for investigators from LMICs.

Methods: To assess the impact of VIRDE on the research careers of alumni over the past 10 years, we surveyed alumni on research engagement, grant productivity, career trajectory, and knowledge gained in grant writing. Descriptive statistics, including means and total counts, and paired sample t-tests were used to analyze the data.

Results: Forty-six of 58 alumni completed the survey. All respondents returned to their home countries and are currently engaged in research. Post-VIRDE grant writing knowledge ratings were significantly greater than pre-VIRDE. The number of respondents submitting grants post-VIRDE was 2.6 times higher than before the program. Eighty-three percent of respondents submitted a total of 147 grants post-VIRDE, of which 45.6% were awarded. Respondents acknowledged VIRDE's positive impact on career growth and leadership, with 88% advancing in career stage.

Conclusions: Gains in grant writing knowledge and grant productivity suggest that VIRDE scholars built skills and confidence in grant writing during the program. A substantial proportion of respondents have advanced in their careers and continue to work in academia in their country of origin. Results show a sustained impact on the research careers of VIRDE alumni. The broader framework for research capacity strengthening resulted in an expansive assessment of the VIRDE program and alumni, illuminating successful program elements and implications that can inform similar capacity strengthening programs.

Keywords: Capacity strengthening; Global health; Low- and middle-income countries; Research training.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Humans
  • Research Personnel