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Reflecting on my one-year anniversary at the NIDCD

As I reflect on my one-year anniversary as NIDCD director, I am grateful for the institute’s talented and resilient scientists and staff and for our many outstanding grantees at research institutions across the country. Although the pandemic has upended our personal and professional lives in ways we never could have imagined, the continued commitment to the NIDCD’s mission inspires me. Thank you to all for the efforts to navigate a challenging road during the past months.

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with NIDCD staff, scientists, and our extramural research community to learn about NIDCD successes, challenges, and opportunities. We have achieved much as a research community over the NIDCD’s 30-plus-year history, and more great work remains to be done. I am grateful to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leadership for graciously welcoming me aboard and for sharing their collective insights. Collaborations with other institutes and programs across the NIH strengthen our ability to achieve NIDCD research goals, and we will continue to build upon those opportunities.

The institute’s advisory council met virtually on September 10-11. A major point of discussion was the NIDCD’s commitment to facilitating further development and engagement of a diverse research workforce and to addressing health disparities in our mission areas, as I wrote in August. We recognize that investing in a diverse workforce elevates the quality of our science, and we are working diligently to accomplish these goals. Council members participated in a robust and informative discussion on this topic, and we plan to engage a working group of present and past members to make recommendations to the NIDCD. Other issues addressed at council included a discussion of the NIDCD Strategic Plan for 2022–2026, and informative presentations on the relationship between hearing loss and dementia. Portions of these meetings are open to the public, and I encourage anyone who missed the presentations to watch the archived meetings (September 10 and September 11) and to join us online to watch future open sessions of the Advisory Council. Our council meets again virtually on January 28 and 29, 2021.

In the coming year—with a schedule adjusted to accommodate the limitations imposed by the pandemic—we will embark on the institute’s strategic planning process for 2022–2026. During this process, we will strive to formulate ambitious, but achievable, goals for science in our mission areas—goals that will further our scientific understanding of basic biological systems, human disease mechanisms, and promising treatments. We will continue to prioritize accessibility of care and research dissemination as core components of our mission. We are committed to making treatments accessible to all, utilizing a full range of innovative technologies and approaches to help all populations, inclusive of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, and communication method. We will soon welcome a new scientific director to our institute to help guide, build, and sustain our intramural (on the NIH campus) research programs.

Over my many years of clinical practice, I was privileged to care for and help so many with ear, hearing, and balance problems. But I also was frustrated that our scientific understanding was insufficient to successfully treat many others. As part of the National Institutes of Health, our mission is to improve the quality of life for those with disorders of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, or language. The basic, translational, and clinical research that we carry out together will improve lives in concrete ways. I welcome the opportunity to work with all toward this shared goal.

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