The Challenges and Impact of Human Genome Research for Minority Communities
from a conference presented by
Workshop III Summary
Facilitator: Valarie Hollingsworth-Davis
Dr. LaShawn Drew, Acting Director of the NIH Academy, indicated that minorities in the United States have poorer medical health outcomes than majorities. Diagnoses for conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure may come later in disease progression, so the average prognosis is less favorable than for majority populations whose chronic diseases may be diagnosed earlier.
In the 1980s, AIDS was considered a homosexual white male disease; now HIV is 10 times more prevalent among African Americans than whites. What is happening?
U.S. minority populations have a shorter lifespan, on average, than majority populations. Health care is not as good in minority communities for a number of reasons; one is that minorities may distrust medical professional due to past history, and some are reluctant to seek care. Despite notable progress in the nation’s overall health, disparities continue in the burden of illness and death experienced by minorities compared to the U.S. population as a whole.
As a part of the Race and Health Initiative by 2010, President Clinton committed the nation in February 1998 to eliminating disparities in six areas of health status experienced by racial and ethnic minorities. These disparities were called to the nation’s attention by Dr. Louis Sullivan and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., U.S. Representative from Illinois.
Dr. Drew discussed a new NIH post-baccalaureate research and training program to help eliminate domestic health disparities by developing a diverse cadre of biomedical science researchers. The one-year program, recent college graduates, will convene its first class of 8 to 10 students in September 2000. The class will emphasize research-based training along with educational components such as seminars and workshops on topics related to health disparities. Skills development and general knowledge-building workshops also will be included.
Betty Mansfield, Managing Editor of Human Genome News, which is sponsored by the Department of Energy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told the audience that the new genetics soon will affect almost everyone as medical consumers, job holders, or both.
Expectations from genomic applications are high, and it is a special challenge for the nation to ensure that these benefits are realized by everyone regardless of race, citizenship, or national origin. Experts believe that if more minorities work in good jobs and careers in the medical sectors—especially those related to genetics—the healthcare-deliver system will have more credibility and trust among minorities.
Recommendations for Jobs in the Bioscience Industry
To obtain more information on the wide range of bioscience careers, Mansfield continued, students should use public libraries, surf the Internet, and read newspapers and trade and technology journals. They should contact their state’s biotechnology-industry organization and find its "Careers" section on the Web (the URL for the national umbrella Biotechnology Industry Organization is www.bio.org).
Students also should communicate with professionals working in fields in which they are interested. Showing interest opens doors for new opportunities.
Some specific careers in or relying heavily on bioscience:
In the past six years, the biotechnology industry doubled in size and is expected to triple in the next 10 years. The number and diversity of bioscience careers, therefore, is expected to increase dramatically.
Cross-disciplinary training in bioethics as well as science or technology (including biology, chemistry, physics, engineering principles, and computer and information science) is seen as important in securing good positions in the growing biosciences industry.
Value of Experience
The meeting panel concluded that students who have jobs, internship positions, or volunteer work in their planned fields have an advantage after graduation—whether the degree being sought is a 2-year, 4-year, M.S., or Ph.D.
Karen Graham, Manager of University Relations and College Recruiting at BD Company, indicated that such experience on a resume would carry more weight than work in unrelated fields and could help offset a less-than-optimal GPA.
Ms. Graham enumerated the traits she looks for in hiring students from college:
Dr. Lloyd Townsend of Aventis Pharmaceutical began his presentation by discussing a study published in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. The study indicated that by 2008, the United States will experience a shortfall of about 2000 Ph.D. –level scientists. This 1992 study was conducted before the genome project kicked the biotechnology industry into high gear. The estimate probably is low, and the shortfall of scientists may be even more pronounced.
Earlier in the session, Dr. Drew said that less than 15% of Ph.D.’s each year go to minorities, who make up about 30% of the U.S. population. The panel and members of the audience concluded that we should be reading the publication mentioned above. Certainly school boards and guidance counselors would benefit from this information as well.
Dr. Townsend said that educators must work diligently to encourage middle and high school students to take more math and science courses. He emphasized that waiting until students are in college to focus on science and math is too late.
Advice to Students
Finally, the audience heard the insights of Jamaal Murphy, a student representative who is a recent college graduate and is now enrolled as a student in physical therapy. After obtaining this degree, he plans to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. He offered the following advice to students: never give up and always practice excellent time-management skills. In reference to past discrimination against minorities, he said we must change with the times, get over past hurts, and pursue careers of choice. At the end of his talk, he acknowledged his mother in the audience, "without whose genes I wouldn’t be here."
|The online presentation of this publication is a special feature of the Human Genome Project Information Web site.|