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Vol. LXI, No. 8
April 17, 2009

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NIH Visits Alaska to Promote Research Diversity

  Members of the NIH group that visited Alaska include (from l) Pedro Morales, Lawrence Self, Julie McNulty, Kay Johnson Graham and Dr. Mary Kerr.  
  Members of the NIH group that visited Alaska include (from l) Pedro Morales, Lawrence Self, Julie McNulty, Kay Johnson Graham and Dr. Mary Kerr.  

A group of NIH’ers recently traveled to several locations across Alaska on an outreach visit. The contingent included Dr. Mary Kerr, deputy director of NINR, Lawrence Self, chief of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, and members of the NIH outreach staff.

While outside temperatures often dipped below 0° F, they were greeted warmly as they met with state officials, university faculty and students, health care professionals and members of the Alaska Native/American Indian (AN/AI) community to provide information about NIH research and training opportunities, as well as to learn about the health conditions and needs of the AN/AI population.

Many Alaskans live in rural villages that dot the sparsely populated “bush country.” Due to the often harsh weather conditions and the extreme distances involved, these villages are frequently difficult to access and may be underserved in both education and health care.

However, the NIH visitors learned that University of Alaska (UA) campuses actively recruit indigenous students, providing remedial classes, tutoring and mentoring programs as needed. UA-Fairbanks, with a student population that is roughly 18 percent AN/AI, offers Ph.D.s in several scientific fields and receives NIH funding for research in areas such as genetics, heart disease and health disparities. UA-Anchorage (10 percent AN/AI) founded a program that works with students at all levels to improve academic success in science and engineering. The UA-Anchorage School of Nursing supports another program aimed at recruiting more AN/AI students into nursing.

The NIH’ers also toured the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, which includes a tribally owned hospital, as well as a primary care center that provides health care team visits to villages across the state. They saw the hospital’s level 2 trauma unit, the only one in Alaska, and learned about the strong emphasis of the nursing department on evidence-based practice and nursing research.

“The trip was a success on several fronts,” said Self. “We identified many talented candidates who are interested in applying to NIH research training and employment opportunities. Our office is committed to this outreach effort, as a way to increase diversity in the scientific pipeline and broaden the participation in NIH opportunities.”

“I was very impressed with the dedication of the Alaskan health professionals we met,” noted Kerr. “We hope to attract more of them into research, as well as to improve access to health care for all people across this vast and wondrous state.” NIHRecord Icon

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