A New NIH Experience Charted for the Next Generation of Minority Health and Health Disparities Researchers

HDRI scholars pictured alongside NIMHD leadership and HDRI faculty members at the start of the weeklong event.
The 2016 Health Disparities Research Institute scholars pictured alongside NIMHD leadership, committee members and HDRI faculty on the campus of NIH on August 15, 2016.

“Imagine you are a 65-year-old woman who has hypertension and diabetes that have been poorly controlled due to your everyday life stressors,” began Dr. Lisa A. Cooper, as the auditorium fell silent. Cooper, who is a professor of medicine at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, used the example to address the disparities she often saw with regard to hypertension and cardiovascular risk factors. She compared two different neighborhoods with different racial groups and socioeconomic statuses in Baltimore, Maryland, one low-income and predominately Black, the other high-income and predominately White. The average life expectancy for the Black neighborhood was 20 years less than that of the White.1

The scenario Dr. Cooper described was only one of many to strike an emotional chord as the presentations got underway at the Health Disparities Research Institute (HDRI), hosted by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The HDRI, held on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, August 15–19, 2016, is a new research experience that replaces the previous 2-week NIMHD Course.

“The presentation today was reassuring, because it goes beyond just the basic research science but relates to clinical relevance as well, specifically for minority and African American women,” said scholar Dr. Renaisa Anthony, Deputy Director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I see this [cardiovascular problem] commonly in my patients, and [today’s presentation] helps me provide better care for them.”

Designed to help participants understand the intersections between science, policy and practice and to learn about methods and cutting-edge issues in the science of minority health and health disparities, the 2016 HDRI had more than 500 applicants. Fifty-one scholars from 22 states and one U.S. territory were accepted, with credentials ranging from M.Ds. and Ph.Ds. to RNs and Pharm.Ds. to comprise the 2016 cohort.

“We’ve replaced the Institute’s original course with a weeklong experience designed to create a path toward the independent-investigator career track, a benchmark of sustainability for researchers,” said NIMHD Director Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable. “The HDRI supports the trans-NIH efforts to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of the scientific workforce.”

“I’m really excited to be giving this course this year; I think we have an amazing group of scholars,” said faculty member and NIMHD Advisory Council Member Dr. Margarita Alegría. “We need traction at the level of disparities, and these are the people that can take the baton and move us forward, so I’m excited to encourage them in behavioral health disparities and the potential for doing really original disparities work.”

Dr. Xinzhi Zhang, a program official in NIMHD’s Division of Extramural Scientific Programs and a member of the HDRI planning committee, explained the overall objective of the HDRI. “The Health Disparities Research Institute is really focused on building the research pipeline for minority health and health disparities research,” said Zhang. “Specifically, we have a mock review to help scholars become familiar with the NIH grant application process.”

The HDRI included this practical coursework to foster immediate engagement with NIH’s extramural programs once scholars return to their home institutions.

In addition to hosting interactive sessions, leaders in minority health and health disparities research covered related topics, such as biologic and behavioral mechanisms, systems science and complex models, healthcare interventions, and quality measurement and methodology for eliminating disparities in health outcomes. NIH staff also gave presentations on scientific workforce diversity, grant matchmaking, and research on sexual and gender minorities, now designated a health disparity population.

“We have a dynamic faculty to guide the scholars through this journey,” said Dr. Joan Wasserman, HDRI Director. “Through them, scholars are learning about the current state of research and prime opportunities for them to study and build their careers.”

Throughout the week, scholars shared their enthusiasm for the HDRI and what it would mean to their work going forward.

Scholar Dr. Daniel Giovenco, a research associate in the Center for Tobacco Studies at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said the HDRI not only addresses the issues surrounding health disparities but also creates pathways to find the solutions. “What we’re learning here is that it is not enough to simply identify that health disparities exist, but that all of our research should have the ultimate goal of making changes influencing and improving those health disparities,” said Giovenco.

Scholar Dr. Cristina Fernandez, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, reflected on the wealth of insight she gained from the weeklong experience. “I have so enjoyed participating in the Health Disparities Research Institute. I’ve had a chance to learn how diverse the field is—all the different opportunities I have within health disparities research, methodology, community-based participatory research, behavioral interventions, the different types of people I can collaborate with—and I’m just very much looking forward to taking all this back and advancing my career in health disparities research, dealing with issues of food and security for children.”

View video reflections on the HDRI

Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, NIMHD Director
Dr. Joyce Hunter, NIMHD Deputy Director
Dr. Margarita Alegría, HDRI Faculty Member
Dr. Yolanda Wilson, HDRI Faculty Member
Dr. Daniel Giovenco, HDRI Scholar
Dr. Cristina Fernandez, HDRI Scholar

References

  1. Cooper LA, Boulware LE, Miller ER 3rd, Golden SH, Carson KA, Noronha G, Huizinga MM, Roter DL, Yeh HC, Bone LR, Levine DM, Hill-Briggs F, Charleston J, Kim M, Wang NY, Aboumatar H, Halbert JP, Ephraim PL, Brancati FL. Creating a Transdisciplinary Research Center to Reduce Cardiovascular Health Disparities in Baltimore, Maryland: Lessons Learned. Am J Public Health 2013;103(11):e26-38.