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Optimize the Workforce - National Cancer Plan

Goal: The cancer care and research workforce is diverse, reflects the communities served, and meets the needs of all people with cancer and those at risk for cancer, ensuring they live longer and healthier lives.

Our efforts to end cancer as we know it will fail if we ignore our most important resource—the cancer care and research workforce. Developing and maintaining a robust, stable, and diverse biomedical workforce requires collaboration and investment across many organizations, including research universities, professional societies, philanthropic foundations, private industry, and the federal government to train and support this and the next generation of scientists.

A reddish brown, circular icon with a photo of a three health care professionals in a group. Above them are the words Optimize the Workforce.

State of the cancer workforce today

Building a workforce that reflects the people it serves requires us to address longstanding factors that hinder diversity, including:

  • Exclusion of scientists and doctors from underrepresented groups.
  • Challenges around completing initial training, finding mentors, obtaining research funding, and securing academic appointments during early career stages.
  • Balancing the need to participate in scientific teams and the need for individual recognition to advance one's career.
  • The uncertainty of a successful future in cancer research due to lack of funding opportunities.

Strategies to optimize the cancer workforce

  • Engage a diverse pool of talented trainees and early-career scientists and support their pursuit of careers in cancer research.
  • Eliminate barriers and facilitate entry for individuals historically excluded from or underrepresented in the cancer workforce.
  • Develop initiatives to address gaps and increase the number of and training for cancer researchers from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds.
  • Study and address the unique needs and concerns of cancer researchers at all career stages in all disciplines.
  • Generate new strategies to support career paths in life sciences and non-research science fields, such as in education, health policy, and health journalism.

Examples of NCI-supported research to achieve this goal

  • New and early-stage researchers from diverse backgrounds can get support from the Early Investigator Advancement Program, which helps them enhance their professional skills, prepare funding applications, and grow their mentoring and peer networks.
  • The Cancer Moonshot Scholars program is working to inspire, support, and attract diverse researchers and ideas to advance cancer science.

Examples of activities across the government to achieve this goal

A robust and diverse workforce is essential for the delivery of high-quality cancer care. Federal agencies play an important role in supporting and training the cancer research and cancer care workforce.

  • The HHS Health Workforce Initiative supports, strengthens, and grows the health workforce, including physicians, nurses, dentists, behavioral health care providers, community health workers, peer support specialists, and many others who dedicate their careers to improving the nation’s health and well-being.
  • In August 2023, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced awards of more than $100 million to train more nurses and grow the nursing workforce.
  • The National Science Foundation ExLENT Program supports experiential learning opportunities for individuals from diverse professional and educational backgrounds to increase access to, and interest in, career pathways in emerging technology fields including biotechnology.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Workforce offers scholarships and loan repayment to students and clinicians and awards grants to organizations such as schools, hospitals, and health centers to improve health workforce training, increase diversity, and advance health equity.
  • The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program supports partnerships between two-year institutions of higher education, other academic institutions, industry, and other entities to improve education of technicians in science and engineering.

Learn more about this goal
  • Updated:

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