NIMHD Hosts Commonwealth Fund Fellows
The future of minority health and health disparities relies, in part, on physician leaders who promote policies and practices to improve care for underrepresented and disadvantaged populations.
The Commonwealth Fund Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy, supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the Commonwealth Fund, is helping to develop such leaders. Fellows complete a year-long intensive study in health policy, public health and management while earning a master’s in public health or public administration. They also participate in leadership forums and seminars to help advance health care delivery.
NIMHD recently welcomed the five physicians from the 2018-2019 Commonwealth Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University. The fellows, all engaged in various areas of minority health research, gathered at the Democracy II Bldg. to learn more about ongoing programs at NIMHD and other NIH organizations, where they could gain further experience in the field.
Dr. Carl V. Hill, director of NIA’s Office of Special Populations, shared research opportunities in minority health and health disparities. He mentioned Alzheimer’s disease as a major area of NIA research in minority groups, including disability populations and sexual and gender minorities.
In order to ensure a well-rounded analysis, “our researchers look at potential pathways of disease at multiple levels,” he said. “That includes environmental, sociocultural and behavioral analyses.” Hill suggested using an NIMHD-NIA-supported resource, the Neighborhood Atlas, to gain insight on these underlying factors at the community level.
NIMHD director Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable offered important reminders. “Minority health is not always about minority groups doing worse,” he said. “We also research in the areas where they excel, such as resilience and life expectancy” with regard to Latinas.
Pérez-Stable also highlighted upcoming updates in the 2020 classifications of race and ethnicity by the Office of Management and Budget. For example, one new category will include the Middle Eastern/North African group. In addition, African Americans, like Latinos, will have the option to indicate their country of origin. Further classifying racial/ethnic subgroups may help researchers understand the mechanisms behind different treatment responses.
“It is important to know how similar we are as well as how different we are,” said Dr. Larissa Avilés-Santa, director of clinical and health services research at NIMHD.
Dr. Marion Koso-Thomas, a medical officer at NICHD, talked about women’s and children’s health research programs and rationales behind them. For instance, with the Global Network, “We want research to be cost-effective and to use something that makes sense in that area,” she said.
One NICHD-supported project helps women prepare before they get pregnant, with nutritional interventions for mothers-to-be to prevent low birthweight.
In addition, NICHD is working toward developing a maternal and newborn health registry to see if low-dose aspirin reduces pregnancy complications or preterm labor.
“Health registries can inform policymakers,” said Koso-Thomas. “Making informed guidelines and engaging with communities are essential. Community engagement is really about engaging the people. No white coats.”
Dr. M. Constanza Camargo, an Earl Stadtman investigator at NCI, shared global research efforts in reducing gastric cancer disparities.
“We are 100 research investigators in the Intramural Research Program [at NCI],” she said, pointing out significant gender and racial disparities in gastric disease linked to an individual’s environment, diet and genes. Camargo’s team and collaborators in Chile are trying to help reduce these disparities in various ways, including identifying biomarkers to predict disease risk.
“We are trying to collect more data to help health care providers make decisions,” she said.
Dr. Karen L. Parker, director of the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO), discussed the NIH Sexual, Gender and Minority Research Strategic Plan for FY 2016-2020, which marked an agency-wide attempt to engage all institutes and centers.
“We didn’t want this research to be siloed,” she said. “Our expectation is that, when appropriate, all research ICs think about coordinating.” Currently supporting more than 370 studies, SGMRO anticipates funding more projects each year. In 2019, the office will host regional workshops at Emory University and Thomas Jefferson University.
With many research opportunities presented, the Commonwealth Fund fellows and NIH presenters discussed potential collaborations on existing and future projects in minority health and health disparities.