Strengthening the Cancer Workforce
Cancer is one of the most exciting and innovative areas of medical research. As scientists continue to make discoveries that improve our knowledge of the environmental risks that impact us daily and the germline and somatic genetic changes that drive cancer development, they are advancing the technologies and methods we use to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat this disease.
It takes a superbly trained, highly effective workforce to make these discoveries, to translate them into new interventions, and to put the improved knowledge base and these cutting-edge tools to work for patients. But in our deliberations concerning the path toward alleviating the suffering and death due to cancer, it's easy to forget one critical aspect of this mission: Who will carry out the research that is so vital for future progress?
This special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin takes that discussion to heart. It provides an overview of the important role NCI has played and will continue to play in developing the cancer research workforce in the United States and in other countries. We hope this issue will be an important resource for people - from those just beginning to those already mature in their careers - who may have an interest in training through NCI.
In my short time at NCI, I've been impressed by the institute's commitment to provide unparalleled training opportunities for talented researchers from a wide variety of disciplines to advance their careers. For example, many fellowship opportunities are available that foster interdisciplinary, collaborative research while trainees work in labs on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campuses in Bethesda and Frederick, Md. These intramural fellowships provide training for chemists; statisticians; epidemiologists; lab managers; medical, dental, and veterinary students; journalists; and other cancer-focused professionals.
Even more plentiful are NCI's extramural training opportunities that provide excellent prospects for researchers to update their technical skills and raise their knowledge base to new levels while working in top academic centers around the country. In fact, at the University of Michigan, I benefited from an NIH-sponsored surgery fellowship that was an important part of my training and career development.
These intramural and extramural opportunities are available for the full breadth of career levels and support a wide variety of trainees - from those who work at the bench to those in the clinic, as well as those in the community - where behavior and environment are key factors to be studied. There are also programs that allow researchers from other countries to train under the mentorship of NCI staff and grantees, as well as opportunities for U.S. researchers to go abroad, synergizing cancer research efforts around the globe.
Of course, funding and conducting innovative research are the highest priorities at NCI. But training does not get short shrift. While funding for training has flattened a bit in the past 2 years, it steadily increased from FY 1999 to 2004 and now stands at more than $281 million. Maintaining robust funds for training continues to be a top priority for senior leadership.
I hope you come away from this issue with a better understanding of NCI's commitment to training future generations of cancer researchers and advocates. And I encourage you to forward this issue to anyone you know with an interest in cancer. It could very well help to initiate a long and successful career in cancer research.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber