Boone Heads Loan Repayment Program
As a college student, Dr. Ericka Boone struggled with the dilemma of taking a summer internship with Merck or one with Penn State’s department of biobehavioral health.
“That decision shaped the rest of my life. I realized this is what I love doing,” said Boone, who studied the effects of alcohol on neurotransmitter systems in the brains of mice that summer at Penn State and went on to get a Ph.D. from the university.
Boone is acutely aware of the quandary young scientists face, debating whether to go into higher paying jobs in private industry and shed their educational debt quickly or follow their passion for research. As new director of the Division of Loan Repayment in the NIH Office of Extramural Research, she is heading a program that can influence their choice.
The Loan Repayment Program (LRP) is focused on attracting qualified physician-scientists to research careers and retaining them by helping pay back up to $35,000 a year for 2 years (total $70K) of their eligible educational debt; awardees are also eligible for 1- or 2-year renewals. The caveat? They must agree to conduct NIH-mission relevant research for 20 hours a week at a domestic nonprofit or government agency over the same period.
“Doing research comes at a sacrifice,” noted Boone, who was a postdoc at Emory University and the University of Illinois. “I had friends who bought houses and had great careers, while I drove a Ford Escort for 14 years.
“We want to remove the financial burden and get the message out about the program, as the LRPs represent an important investment by NIH in the future of health discovery.”
“Congress saw indebtedness of physician-scientists, including dentists and veterinarians, as one of the major barriers that forced them from research into direct clinical care,” said Dr. Sherry Mills, director of the Office of Extramural Programs at OER and Boone’s supervisor.
The LRP, mandated by Congress, funds some 1,500 researchers a year outside of NIH, with annual awards totaling $65 million to $70 million (see https://www.lrp.nih.gov/). “We are taking bright physician-scientists, eliminating most of their educational debt, helping them stay in research and starting their trajectory into independent research,” Mills said.
Mills praised Boone as “very smart, very focused and someone who has embraced the spirit of the program in a core way. She carries the best interests of participants at all times and is a super advocate for applicants and staff.”
Boone joined NIH in 2008, working in NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications, where she developed publications on substance use and abuse. She later began assisting with the LRP at NIDA, becoming an LRP program officer in 2010 and NIDA’s LRP liaison in 2013. When the LRP division director job opened up at OER, it seemed an ideal fit for her qualifications. Boone applied and was named director recently.
The daughter of a Navy officer, Ernest Kimbrough, and a Department of Transportation contractor, Toni Kimbrough, Boone grew up in a big family (four sisters and a brother) and moved around a lot. The Virginia Beach native says she gets her joy for life from her father and her “knuckle-down, hard work ethic” from her mother.
In her spare time, she makes jewelry, travels and loves attending jazz, R&B and gospel concerts.
A single parent, Boone says she has been absorbed for the past 18 years in raising her son, Evan, a college freshman. She has volunteered at his school since his pre-K days and is currently a volunteer on the NAACP Parents’ Council in Montgomery County.
And she has graduated to a Hyundai Sonata.