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Vol. LXV, No. 20
September 27, 2013

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NIMHD Course Provides Research Tools to Combat Health Disparities
NIMHD director Dr. John Ruffin (front, c) and other course participants

NIMHD director Dr. John Ruffin (front, c) and other course participants

The 2013 NIMHD Translational Health Disparities course—Integrating Principles of Science, Practice and Policy in Health Disparities Research—drew a diverse group of health care and public health professionals, researchers, scientists and members of community- and faith-based organizations. They traveled from around the globe to learn about ways to eliminate health disparities.

Dr. Julie Reynolds, a dentist from Iowa, says the course will enable her to integrate oral health advocacy and research with general health and translate research findings into action. Dr. Yvette Paulino, a nursing professor from the University of Guam, hopes to reduce health disparities there and in neighboring Micronesia and involve these populations in long-term research studies to better understand health disparities.

“This course demonstrates that health disparities research is now a recognized field in the scientific community,” said NIMHD director Dr. John Ruffin. “Yet it is a young, rapidly growing transdisciplinary scientific field that will benefit enormously from this gathering of distinguished scholars and researchers.”

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities selected 90 scholars from 450 applications—the largest class and number of applications to date.

Of the participants, 49 came from academia, 15 from community-based organizations, 10 from NIH, 8 from other federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Agency for Healthcare Quality Research, 4 from public entities including Michigan department of community health and Utah department of health; and 4 from the private sector. The 2-week course included 12 modules on topics such as public policy, civil rights laws, economics, education, social and behavioral science, biology and genetics, bioethics, global and population health, environmental health, community-based participatory research and comparative effectiveness research.

In a session that examined health disparities from an economist’s perspective, Dr. Tiffany L. Green of Virginia Commonwealth University detailed the lifelong detrimental effects of childhood poverty on educational attainment, adult health and economic status.

Nearly 4 days of sessions focused on the social determinants of health and health disparities in racial and ethnic populations; rural, poor and medically underserved populations; immigrants; sexual minorities; and persons with disabilities. Discussions covered topics on the history, culture and economics of social status, race and identity on population health, as well as gaps in research and strategies for improving the overall health of these populations.

“This course is a great opportunity that every human being involved in service and health care should be exposed to in training,” said Dr. Milangel Concepcion Zayas, a third-year resident physician in psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“I practice clinical medicine and come from a biomedical perspective, so I had a feeling that stress is a factor in health outcomes, but this course has changed my perspective,” said Dr. Lauracinne Jenkins, who studies infant and maternal mortality and morbidity. “Now I am sure stress plays a tangible role—it has a physiological and biological impact on health. Through this course, I now have a toolkit to address this with patients and I will talk to them about what they can do to decrease stress in their lives.”

“This course brings truly outstanding scholars, clinicians and researchers to the NIH representing an even wider array of disciplines, professional interests, countries of origin and racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said Ruffin. “As a result of this experience, it is our hope that they will return home and become foot soldiers and ambassadors for health disparities.”

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