More Academic Medical Centers Support Health Equity Research

Jan. 16, 2024
Vanderbilt University Medical Center announces the creation of a Program for Health Equity Research

Besides efforts to address health disparities in clinical care settings, academic medical centers also are developing new programs to increase opportunities for researchers who study health equity approaches. The latest is Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which recently announced a new Program for Health Equity Research (PHER).

The mission of PHER is to establish a community of scholars and collaborators across VUMC to generate and advance research to inform and guide innovative solutions that move beyond addressing health disparities but that also advance the understanding of what works, for whom, and under what conditions to promote health and health outcomes. 

PHER will be guided by the following goals:
• Community building among health equity research scholars.
• Collaboration and training in health equity research.
• Health equity research workforce initiatives.
• Health equity research pilot awards program.
• Relationship building between health equity researchers and community experts.


The program will be part of the Center for Health Services Research (CHSR) and is also supported equally by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health and the Office of Health Equity.

“This important new program will provide valuable resources and community-building activities for VUMC faculty and trainees engaged in studying and improving equity in health outcomes,” said Sunil Kripalani, M.D., MSc, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Clinical Quality and Implementation Research and of the Center for Health Services Research, in a statement.

Ebele Mary-Anne Umeukeje, M.D., M.P.H., and Velma McBride Murry, M.S., Ph.D., will serve as co-directors of PHER.  Umeukeje’s research aims to reduce the high morbidity and mortality associated with kidney disease by addressing psychosocial determinants to improve self-care and promote health equity in vulnerable populations. McBride Murry’s research examines the significance of context to everyday life experiences of African American families and youth, focusing on processes through which racism, and other social structural stressors, cascade through families to influence parenting and family functioning, developmental outcomes, and adjustment among youth during critical developmental periods from middle childhood through young adulthood.

Another nationwide program is supporting early career health equity scholars. In 2021, the Scholars Strategy Network, with the backing of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, introduced the Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP). 

The 2023-24 HESP cohort consists of 18 early-career scholars conducting research on social determinants of health. The program is structured to enable cohort members to disseminate their research findings among peers, senior scholars, policymakers, and practitioners. 
One researcher in the program is Gabe Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Sociology. 

“Selection as a HESP scholar motivates me to continue researching sexual, gender, and racial/ethnic health inequities, as our findings about social determinants of health may inform evidence-based policy decisions and interventions,” Miller said in a statement. “I am grateful for being recognized by the Scholar Strategy Network and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as it validates my work as vital for building health equity.”

As a cohort member, Miller will participate in an in-person meeting early in 2024 and ongoing virtual workshops and training sessions focused on the ongoing development of the tools and skills needed to improve health equity. The goal is to empower early-career scientists to communicate research to policy stakeholders, enhance personal development and foster relationships. 

“I’m especially looking forward to the networking and community-building with the other 17 scholars; I am excited to learn from these other phenomenal researchers,” Miller said. “Several cohort members are working on LGBT health equity or racial/ethnic health equity, so I expect my participation will result in a stronger partnership with the Scholar Strategy Network and the organizations they work with, as well.”

In 2020, Brown University in Rhode Island created its own Health Equity Scholars program to help build a diverse public health leadership cohort with members committed to dismantling health disparities.

Building on Brown’s long-standing partnership with Tougaloo College, the HES program began recruiting exceptional scholars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to attend Brown’s Masters in Public Health (MPH) program with full tuition remission. Along with an Ivy League public health education, Health Equity Scholars receive mentorship and leadership training, and benefit from the supportive environment fostered by their HES peers.
Dean Ashish Jha and Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the school, Jai-Me Potter-Rutledge, decided to expand the program’s outreach to scholars from Hispanic Serving Institutions, and a third pathway was also opened, inviting scholars from Rhode Island who want to give back to their communities a place in the program’s fold. 

“The R.I. pathway attracts folks committed to addressing health inequities in their own communities in the state of Rhode Island,” said Rosenny Taveras, the director of the HES program, in a statement. “These scholars are deeply devoted to combating health disparities they may have experienced growing up and have a first-hand understanding of key areas that need to be addressed. This program is for students looking to make an impact close to home.”

 

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