Increasing the Representation of Minority Students in the Biomedical Workforce: the ReTOOL Program

Abstract

With the growing burden of cancer in minority populations and limited progress in eliminating cancer disparities, it has become important to develop a diverse oncology workforce in basic, clinical, and behavioral research who will address cancer disparities and increase the participation of minority populations in clinical trials. To address the lack of well-trained underrepresented minority cancer scientists in Florida, the University of Florida collaborated with Florida A&M University in 2012 to establish the Florida Prostate Cancer Research Training Opportunities for Outstanding Leaders (ReTOOL) Program. Since 2012, the ReTOOL program has expanded to (1) cover all areas of cancer disparities; (2) offer training opportunities to minority students from all historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Florida; and (3) successfully secure both intramural and extramural federal funding to continuously provide research training opportunities for minority students in Florida. Focusing primarily on training Black students, the ReTOOL model includes culturally sensitive recruitment, mentorship, didactic curriculum, networking, and hands on experience in cancer research. This paper discusses the lessons learned from administering the ReTOOL program for 5 years, which includes having the right inputs (such as majority-minority institutions partnership, funding, faculty advisors, committed mentors, culturally competent staff, and standardized program requirements) and processes (such as pipeline approach, structured applications system, didactic curriculum, research experience, and continuous mentoring) for an effective research training program. The program impact is an increase in the pool of underrepresented minority candidates with scientific and academic career progression paths focused on reducing cancer health disparities.

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Acknowledgements

Ms. Shannon Pressey and Mr. Kenneth Stokes are acknowledged for their role in supporting the ReTOOL program. Dr. Paul Okunieff is acknowledged for his support in developing and implementing the ReTOOL program. In addition, we would like to acknowledge the RETOOL mentors for their commitment to training underrepresented minority students.

Funding

The ReTOOL program was funded by the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program of the office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (Awards W81XWH-12-1-0083 and W81XWH-14-1-0243) and currently funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute (P20CA192992 and R25CA21422).

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Correspondence to Folakemi T. Odedina.

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Odedina, F.T., Reams, R.R., Kaninjing, E. et al. Increasing the Representation of Minority Students in the Biomedical Workforce: the ReTOOL Program. J Canc Educ 34, 577–583 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-018-1344-6

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Keywords

  • Cancer research training
  • Minority undergraduate research
  • Underrepresented minorities
  • Summer research training program
  • ReTOOL program
  • Biomedical research workforce