NIH Grant Establishes Health Equity Research Program for Trainees Underrepresented in Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch a program designed to increase the number of underrepresented minority medical and graduate students, residents and postdoctoral fellows committed to careers in health equity and global health research.

The five-year, $1.34 million award from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health will fund the new Weill Cornell Career Advancement for Research in Health Equity (CARE) program. This is the first time Weill Cornell Medicine has received this specialized grant, also known as a T37; which the institution will match with an additional $500,000 in funds to support the program. By mentoring and training students in research both locally and internationally, the program aims to increase the diversity and number of highly trained scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine who are dedicated to closing gaps in health disparities and improving global health.

“The current single most important objective at Weill Cornell Medicine in the area of inclusion and diversity is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in our faculty, and this program will greatly help us reach that objective,” said Dr. Said Ibrahim, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine and principal investigator of the grant.

T37 grants traditionally support programs encouraging younger students from underrepresented groups, even at the undergraduate level, to gain experience in global health. Weill Cornell Medicine “bucked the trend,” Dr. Ibrahim said, by proposing a focus only on graduate-level students already immersed in biomedical sciences.

“With this slightly different approach, Weill Cornell Medicine is developing a pipeline to feed our goal of increasing the number of underrepresented scientists and leaders in our institution,” said Dr. Ibrahim, chief of the Division of Healthcare Delivery Science and Innovation in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research and a professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Ibrahim has spent much of his career investigating why health outcomes vary among demographic groups.

The CARE initiative will build on many prominent initiatives promoting the strategic vision of Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, who elevated diversity as an essential pillar of the institution’s mission.

The program aims to increase both the pool and diversity of scientists committed to conducting patient-oriented research accomplishing two key goals: improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare while also addressing well-documented national and global inequalities in healthcare access, utilization and outcomes. Weill Cornell Medicine will leverage relationships with its parent university Cornell University, as well as neighboring institutions with which it collaborates, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University, Hospital for Special Surgery and Hunter College, to identify about 50 trainees over five years to participate in the program. Participation is open to currently matriculated Weill Cornell Medicine medical and graduate students, residents and post-doctoral fellows. Dr. Ibrahim’s team will also speak with academic leaders both inside and outside Cornell University to encourage them to refer students that they believe will benefit from this program, which launched last month.

“The idea was to look at existing resources within Weill Cornell Medicine and leverage them into something new and exciting,” he said. “We hope to create a cadre of young scientists who will be part of this national and global effort.”

Selected trainees will learn the fundamentals of healthcare disparities research through an intensive two-month summer session led by Weill Cornell Medicine faculty members and participate in a health equity seminar series also run by faculty. Students will engage in a year-long mentored research experience in which they will pair up with faculty to complete research projects, and will train at one of Weill Cornell Medicine’s NIH-funded global health research sites in Haiti, Brazil, Tanzania or Ghana. In addition, students can apply for funds from a Weill Cornell Medicine competitive pilot program that supports research projects they initiate aimed at addressing health disparities and global health issues.

“We want to expose students to great training and experiences they might not otherwise have had,” Dr. Ibrahim said. “We hope to get many trainees from within the institution, but also expose other future scientists to Weill Cornell Medicine so that when they’re done with training, they want to come here and join us.”

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