NIMHD Course Provides Scholars with a Foundation for Health Disparities Research

Having just emerged from a lecture by Dr. Daniel Onion, who discussed the cardiovascular disease prevention programs he has conducted for 40 years in rural Maine, recently written up in JAMA, Dr. Yolanda Haywood was eager to talk about her experience as one of 94 scholars selected for the 2015 NIMHD Translational Health Disparities Course.

“It’s transformative, eye-opening and inspiring,” said Haywood, dean of diversity, inclusion and student affairs at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. “Participating in this course helps to focus you on the purpose of your work and how important it is.”

The highly competitive, intensive 2-week course, which has drawn an average of 350 applications over the past three years, provides an introduction to the principles and practice of health disparities research including basic concepts, methods, key issues and new applications needed to conduct and implement translational and transdisciplinary research, and interventions addressing health disparities. The goals are to integrate an understanding of the science of population health, determinants of health disparities and implications for practice and policy.

“The purpose of this course is simple—we need to take the fullest advantage of every individual’s talent and ability to contribute to addressing the disproportionate burden of poor health and related outcomes for certain population groups,” said Dr. Irene Dankwa-Mullan, course director and acting deputy director, NIMHD Division of Extramural Scientific Programs. “As stewards of the largest biomedical and clinical research enterprise, we cannot afford to disregard the potential scientific and clinical brainpower available to us, through the institutions and organizations poised to address health disparities.”

While scholars are on the NIH campus, they attend presentations by nationally and internationally recognized experts from diverse disciplines followed by panel discussions, work in teams on real life case studies, participate in network sessions with other NIH staff involved in health disparities research activities and learn about NIH research and training activities. Scholars also toured labs at the NIH Clinical Center and the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center.

Dr. Ewan K. Cobran, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, who studies the side effects and health disparities of radiation therapy, was so intrigued by a state-of-the- art linear accelerator (a device used to deliver radiation treatment to cancer patients) in NCI’s Radiation Oncology Branch, that he filmed a video to show to his students back home.

“It’s truly fantastic to see bench-to-bedside treatment options,” said Dr. Suneeta Kercood, a professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, who toured the NIAAA-NIDA Section on Clinical Psychoneuroendocrinology and Neuropsychopharmacology, which conducts translational and clinical outpatient and inpatient studies on alcoholism treatments. “It was amazing to see what research is being done and nice to know people can get help here for their issues when they can’t get help elsewhere.”

Over the course of eight modules, scholars learn about topics such as prevention science and Big Data, genomics and developmental neuroscience and health disparities, environmental justice and health disparities, systems science and complex models and methods, comparative and health care effectiveness research, and diversity and inclusion in clinical trials.

“It’s amazing to see the fruition of people’s work and how long they’ve been doing this work,” said Dr. Esohe Ohuoba, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. “Their passion and excitement makes you want to go out and do the same.”

Participants in the course include health care professionals, public policy/public health professionals, academic researchers, and members of community-based and faith-based organizations who have an interest in health disparities, community-based participatory research, or are engaged in health disparities activities.

The course is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education through joint sponsorship by NIMHD and the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. For more information visit