The size of the physician-scientist workforce has declined for the past 3 decades, which raises significant concerns for the future of biomedical research. There is also a considerable gender disparity among physician-scientists. This disparity is exacerbated by race, resulting in a compounding effect for women of color. Proposed reasons for this disparity include the time and expense physicians must devote to obtaining specialized research training after residency while at the same time burdened with mounting medical school debt and domestic and caretaking responsibilities, which are disproportionately shouldered by women. These circumstances may contribute to the overall gender disparity in research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Women apply for NIH grants less often than men and are therefore less likely to receive an NIH grant. However, when women do apply for NIH grants, their funding success is comparable to that of men.
Increasing representation of women and groups underrepresented in medicine (UIM) requires not only improving the pipeline (e.g., through training) but also assisting early and midcareer women—and especially women who are UIM—to advance. In this article, the authors propose the following solutions to address the challenges women and other UIM individuals face at each of these career stages: developing specific NIH research training programs targeted to women and UIM individuals in medical school and residency; creating institutional and individual grant initiatives; increasing student loan forgiveness; setting up robust institutional mentorship programs for individuals seeking to obtain independent funding; providing childcare stipends as part of NIH grants; and instituting an NIH requirement that funded investigators participate in efforts to increase diversity in the physician-scientist workforce. Enabling more women and UIM individuals to enter and thrive in the physician-scientist workforce will increase the size and diversity of this critical component of biomedical research.