NLM is Celebrating 40 Years of Biomedical Training

Guest post by Richard C. Palmer, DrPH, JD, Acting Director, Division of Extramural Programs, National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This summer, NLM is marking its 40th year of supporting Biomedical Informatics and Data Research Training (T15). This is an amazing accomplishment, and I extend my congratulations to all the past and present institutional training grant directors, trainees, and NLM staff that have helped mature the field, grow the scientific workforce, and prepare this country for a biomedical revolution. This revolution harnesses the power of data to improve scientific exploration, clinical care, public health practice, and personal health.

Although almost 40 years have passed, NLM is more committed than ever to support career training, which is a central component of the NLM Strategic Plan. Recently, NLM released a new R25 program focused on supporting innovative educational programs and research experiences aimed at preparing talented and diverse students for future careers in biomedical informatics and data science. NLM also recently awarded 18 T15 grant awards, the largest number of awards made to date, to help ensure an available data-driven biomedical informatics and data science workforce. About 170 graduate and postdoctoral students will be trained annually by the T15 program to meet this growing workforce demand. NLM recognizes that we need to invest in training to ensure that a well-trained informatics and data science workforce exists to address the health needs of this nation.

Personally, I am amazed with just how fast the biomedical informatics and data science field has grown in the past 10 years. I entered this field with a study that aimed to build a clinical decision support tool to help manage fall risk for older adults—I vividly remember the headache associated with the interoperability (a computer or software inability to exchange and utilize data or other information) of data sources. Since then, I have witnessed rapid change occurring—due in part to the continued advances in computing, data storage, and standardization—that has allowed biomedical informatics to quickly advance. This change is occurring rapidly. To harness this acceleration in the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information in health research and for the biomedical enterprise, we need a highly skilled workforce, and the demand for scientists trained in these areas and who can apply these skills to health and biomedicine is higher than the current supply. NLM’s commitment to training is helping ensure that a workforce capable of leading innovation exists.

Since joining NLM, I have had the opportunity to learn more about NLM’s T15 training program and the impact it’s had. Forty years is a long time, so I pieced together data to identify a common trend: The majority of the T15 trainees move on to research-oriented roles in academic institutions, not-for-profit research organizations, governmental and public health agencies, pharmaceutical and software companies, and health care organizations. Those in training over the past 10 years published 2,350 articles, with nearly 23% of these publications being highly cited, and were associated with 23 patents. In addition, T15 trainees are taking on leadership roles in academia, health centers, and research organizations. Even NIH’s own Dr. Josh Denny, who leads the All of Us program, and Dr. Michael Chiang, Director of the National Eye Institute, are former T15 trainees.

Just recently, I was able to participate in my first T15 trainee conference hosted by the University at Buffalo, SUNY and saw what research T15 trainees were involved with. What impressed me was the passion these trainees had for the science and their commitment to tackling pressing biomedical issues. Trainees are conducting research in areas including basic biomedical research, health care delivery, clinical and translational research, public health surveillance, and consumer health. Given their level of engagement, there is little doubt that many current T15 trainees will build successful scientific careers that will benefit society tremendously. At NLM, we are committed to training and fostering the development of the next generation of biomedical informatics and data scientists and look forward to the scientific advances they make. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and the last four decades sure have flown by. Here’s to another 40 years of NLM-supported training!

Dr. Palmer oversees NLM’s grant programs for research, resources, workforce development, and small business related to biomedical informatics and data science. Prior to joining NLM, Dr. Palmer was a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. He has over 25 years of extramural research experience and has been an investigator on NIH and CDC funded research grants. Dr. Palmer has conducted research in health care and community-based settings aimed at addressing health disparities, understanding health care decision-making, and improving health outcomes and disease management among older adults.

Want to learn more about NLM’s support for training?

View a panel discussion on Lindberg and the Advancement of Science through Research Training held during the 2022 Lindberg-King Lecture and Scientific Symposium: Science, Society, and the Legacy of Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD on September 1. The panel addressed the leadership of Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, former NLM director, in the advancement of science through research training with emphasis on the field of informatics.

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