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New Psychologists Lend a Hand and NIH Repays the Favor

Concerns about NIH activities have been front and center for APA these past few months.

By Geoff Mumford

Concerns about NIH activities have been front and center for APA these past few months. Whether the issue was programmatic support of basic psychological research or a new policy to archive NIH-funded research on a central publications database, APA member scientists and APA as a publishing house had plenty of reason to worry. While neither of those issues have been completely resolved we thought you could use a little good news and that comes in the form of data that science policy staff acquired on the NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP).

The NIH Loan Repayment Program was devised to encourage budding health professionals to consider research careers in a set of specialty areas deemed most critical to the NIH mission in return for repayment of educational debt. The program was mandated during the 106th congress with passage of the "Public Health Improvement Act" in the fall of 2000. Thus, NIH will pay up to $35,000 per year of qualified educational debt as well as the corresponding federal taxes (up to the 39% level) for post-docs who are accepted to one of the five LRP's: Clinical Research, Pediatric Research, Health Disparities Research, Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds, and Contraception and Infertility Research.

Last October NIH announced the award of 1,400 new LRP contracts and that made us wonder how well psychologists were faring in the competition and in the spirit of "it can't hurt to ask" - we did. Although it was a somewhat tortured exercise to extract the data, persistence paid off and we're grateful to Steve Boehlert, Director of Operations for the LRP and his staff for persevering. The good news is that in the aggregate data, representing the last two program years, fully 38% of the awardees were psychologists. As one might expect, there was a broad range across the five programs such that no psychologists were represented in the Contraception and Infertility Research Program but 50% of the awardees were psychologists in the Health Disparities Research Program. In terms of raw numbers, the largest program is in Clinical Research where 42% of awards went to psychologists (table of 2003/2004 award data).

So at a time when the psychological science community is concerned about the marginalization of selected research programs at NIH, it is encouraging to see that psychologists are clearly so integral to this one. Visit the Heath and Human Services web site fo more detail on the Loan Repayment Programs.