NIMHD’s Pioneers in Minority Health and Health Disparities Q & A Campaign

NIMHD champions workforce diversity. As we celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) heritage month this year, we are recognizing pioneer researchers in minority health and health disparities field, whose career trajectories have been shaped by the NIMHD-sponsored Loan Repayment Program (LRP) and subsequent research program grants. Meet Daniel E. Jimenez, Ph.D.

Dr. Daniel Jimenez
Dr. Daniel Jimenez

Dr. Daniel Jimenez

Dr. Jimenez is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He has extensive experience in aging research, and he has dedicated his career to improving access to and engagement with mental health services among underserved populations. Dr. Jimenez’s research interests include geriatric mental health services research, health promotion, multicultural mental health, and mental illness prevention. He has combined these areas of research to design and implement culturally appropriate and novel approaches to preventing mental illness in racial/ethnic minority older adults.

Dr. Jimenez is the son of parents who emigrated from Cuba hoping to make a new and better life for themselves and their children. He identifies himself as Cuban. From that vantage point, Dr. Jimenez grew up not only witnessing the hardship of being an immigrant, but also watched as they persevered in the face of great adversity. He learned from an early age that despite older generations carrying great wisdom and knowledge, a foreign culture that marginalizes minorities can severely challenge even the most capable immigrants. These early experiences ignited Dr. Jimenez’s passion and continued to drive his commitment toward helping older racial/ethnic minority adults.

On his work addressing health disparities in minority and vulnerable populations through personal and professional experiences, Dr. Jimenez said, “I have learned that mental health disparities among older Latinos are unlikely to be ameliorated without equal attention to how they engage with and respond to mental health problems and treatment. Stigma and the skepticism towards traditional mental health treatment are high, while a sense of community is believed to be an essential component of health and well-being. A strong social network is a protective factor against mental health problems, providing help in times of need. For Latinos, migration has had a devastating effect on their social fabric. The disruption of family structure by the scattering of family members is believed to be traumatic, and it can lead to poor mental health. Therefore, effective approaches to reducing the burden of mental illness affecting older Latinos – and ultimately eliminating mental health disparities – are likely to involve non-traditional methods that are culturally acceptable and scalable.”

Q & A with Dr. Daniel E. Jimenez

How is your research impacting public health?
I have dedicated my career to identifying health disparities affecting the nation’s racial/ethnic minority older adults and developing innovative strategies to reduce, and ultimately eliminate these disparities. I have documented the high prevalence of depression and anxiety, as well as the mental health service use disparities, that put older Latinos at high-risk, where scalable preventive interventions could have a big positive impact on public health. I have designed a culturally appropriate and novel health promotion intervention, Happy Older Latinos are Active (HOLA), to prevent depression and anxiety in older Latinos. HOLA was designed to be delivered by community health workers to increase the scalability and possibility for dissemination. Health promotion interventions represent a potential solution to the multiple disparities experienced by older Latinos. Treating mental health problems through health and wellness could appeal to older Latinos as a non-stigmatizing and culturally acceptable alternative to traditional mental health services.

How has the Loan Repayment Program (LRP) impacted your career?
The Loan Repayment Program allowed me to chase my dream of having an independent research career. It protected my time, ensuring that I had an opportunity to publish and develop my own research interests without the pressure of a high clinical or teaching load.

What was your motivation in becoming an independent research investigator?
My motivations for becoming an independent research investigator were to (1) ask the questions that those around me are not likely to come up with and (2) answer those questions taking into consideration the cultural influences (e.g. sense of community, values, beliefs, stigma, etc.). I have been very fortunate to have great mentors who have nurtured my passion and have dedicated countless hours in helping me succeed. They have supported and challenged me to pursue my own research interests.

Is there a particular challenge you had to overcome in your career, and what advice would you give to the next generation?
A supervisor once told me that I was too deferential. She understood that was a Latino cultural value - respeto dictates deferential behavior toward others based on age, gender and authority. However, she said that if I wanted to succeed in academia, I needed to stop being that. In essence, she was telling me that I had to stop being who I was. So many years later, I can confidently say that she was wrong. I have been able to have success in academia because I stayed true to who I was. The advice I would give to the next generation is to be yourself, and find mentors who will encourage you to stay true to yourself and provide a nurturing environment that allows for your unique voice to be heard.

What is your vision for health equity in this new decade?
My vision for health equity in the new decade is a diverse workforce. When a patient says, I want to see a provider that looks like me, they should be able to.

Posted September 17, 2020