Conversation with Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, Mayo Clinic Department of Cardiovascular Medicine

Partnering with Community-Based Organizations to Improve Cardiovascular Health

NIMHD’s Conversations with Researchers Advancing Health Equity

February is African American History Month. As we celebrate the significant contributions to America—from its history through present day—by people who represent Black and African American communities, we recognize researchers who are promoting health equity through their work to advance the science of minority health and health disparities.

Dr. LaPrincess Brewer

Meet LaPrincess C. Brewer, M.D., M.P.H., FACC, FASPC, FACP, principal investigator in minority health and health disparities research.

Go to the Q&A with Dr. Brewer

Dr. LaPrincess Brewer is a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine within the Mayo Clinic Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. She is the first African American woman cardiologist on the Mayo Clinic Rochester staff.

Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Black Church was the centerpiece of Dr. Brewer’s African American community. Within her home church, she first witnessed the burden of uncontrolled cardiovascular risk factors. This early experience shaped her journey to a career in minority health and health disparities and continues to inform the sociocultural context of her research.

Dr. Brewer is currently principal investigator of the NIMHD- and AHA-funded study, the FAITH! (Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health) trial which includes a community co-designed cardiovascular health promotion intervention in partnership with African American churches. In addition, Dr. Brewer has published extensively on racial differences in weight maintenance among women and psychosocial factors influencing obesity and overall cardiovascular health.

She has received highly competitive career development awards, including the American Heart Association (AHA)-Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program Award, the NIH Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH) Scholar Award, and the NIH KL2 Mentored Career Development Award to expand her work as a clinical investigator.

Her community health advocacy efforts have been featured on both local and national media outlets including ESSENCE, CBS, PBS, CNN and the Huffington Post. She was recently named a 2019 ChangeMaker by Minnesota Public Radio News, a 2020 History Maker at Home by the City of Minneapolis, and the recipient of the 2021 Wenger Award for Excellence in Medical Research by WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

She earned her M.D. at the George Washington University School of Medicine, her M.P.H. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and her B.S. from Howard University.

Q&A with Dr. LaPrincess Brewer

What is your research goal, purpose and aim?
I am the founder and principal investigator of the FAITH! Program. It is a cardiovascular health and wellness program to promote cardiovascular health among racial and ethnic minority groups through innovative community-based behavioral interventions. We use a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to develop genuine relationships with organizations serving populations that have been historically marginalized or are experiencing poverty.

My overall research goal is to develop strategies to reduce and ultimately eliminate cardiovascular health disparities in racial and ethnic minority populations and in underserved communities through effective health promotion. I also have a special interest in increasing minority and women's participation in cardiovascular clinical trials through mobile health (mHealth) interventions.

The primary purpose of my NIMHD-funded research is to rigorously refine and pilot test a community-informed, culturally tailored mHealth lifestyle intervention to promote ideal cardiovascular health among African American persons in faith communities. As an exploratory aim we seek to better understand psychosocial factors influencing ideal cardiovascular health (e.g., religiosity/spirituality, optimism, stress, discrimination).

How is your work advancing the science and populations experiencing health disparities? Are you seeing specific changes in particular communities or groups?
FAITH! has built a rich, dynamic CBPR academic-community partnership with African American churches and community health centers in Rochester and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. We have over a decade of collaborations with the African American faith community and have a track record of improving health outcomes in this population. Our project is the first behavioral-theory informed intervention utilizing the American Heart Association (AHA) Life’s Simple 7 framework to examine ideal cardiovascular health among African Americans through a CBPR approach.

In partnership with community members, we co-designed a general cardiovascular health and wellness digital application for African American communities called the FAITH! App which had high acceptability and resulted in significant improvements in ideal cardiovascular health among our pilot study participants.

By integrating culturally sensitive materials with spiritually driven motivation for change, the program successfully improved cardiovascular health knowledge and healthy lifestyle practices among participants.

From the research you are doing, what has surprised you about the discoveries from your lab and its impact?
One of the greatest surprises that I had as an early-stage investigator was the deeply rooted skepticism I received even as a researcher representative of the community I recruit. After taking time to delve into these issues further through community engagement, our team discovered that this justified skepticism stemmed from a lack of outreach historically by our institution to this community, which resulted in distrust of our intentions.

Every community is different, and you cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement. By earning our trustworthiness as researchers, we built a genuine, synergistic, and reciprocal relationship with our local African American community, which has truly been rewarding. We have been accountability partners to each other to make sure we follow through on our mutual goals to impact cardiovascular health disparities in underserved and disenfranchised communities.

What inspired you to become a researcher in minority health and health disparities?
When I was a medical student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a public health student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, I was deeply saddened to see the many lives lost prematurely to heart disease in African American communities. This loss of precious life was in large part due to adverse social determinants of health, which hindered the ability of individuals within these communities to focus on healthy lifestyles.

I made it my mission to create a culture of change in African American communities and started FAITH!. I decided to partner with African American church congregations due to my own upbringing in the Black Church and given that it is a trusted, influential institution within many communities.

How do we encourage the next generation of scientists?
One of my absolute favorite quotes is from First Lady of the United States Mrs. Michelle Obama: “We should always have three friends in our lives—one who walks ahead who we look up to and follow, one who walks beside us…and then, one who we reach back for and bring along after we've cleared the way.”

We have to promote diverse representations of what scientists look like to overcome stereotypes about Black men and women in science and medicine. I was so honored for this recognition and to have the opportunity to share my story as I wanted to provide a representation of an African American woman cardiologist and researcher to serve as a role model for others to consider a career in academics.

“You can’t be what you can’t see;” thus, I value mentoring trainees from undergraduate to post-doctoral levels. This is a part of my legacy. I have benefitted from several NIH-sponsored STEM pipeline and research training programs and would not be here today as a successful physician-scientist had they not been in existence. We need to invest more into these programs and enhance their components for the next generation of scientists.

What do you envision as the future of minority health and health disparities research?
I envision an authentic and centralized focus on the betterment of underserved communities as the future of minority health and health disparities research. A vision that does not solely focus on clinical outcomes but issues and circumstances of even more importance in the real world that influence cardiovascular health. The future in research lies in truly making an impact on communities that are marginalized and yearning for social justice. Achieving cardiovascular health equity for all is a form of social justice.

Page updated Jan. 12, 2024