The Training Page

FROM THE OFFICE OF INTRAMURAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION

The NIH Academy

For the past eight months, I have been one of more than 100 postbacs who attend the NIH Academy’s weekly meetings to wrestle with one of the hottest topics in public health: health disparities. The term “health disparities” refers to inequalities in vulnerable populations in rates of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, and mortality.

The NIH Academy is a 12-year-old program that empowers the next generation of researchers and clinicians in the fight for health equity. In September 2012, OITE launched an expanded version of the Academy. The old Academy trained 12 to 16 postbacs a year, but the new NIH Academy, which offers a certificate program and a more intensive fellows program, has already trained 115 people in just one year. The program emphasizes the need for multidisciplinary collaboration among policy makers, communities, and public-health workers, as well as scientists, to bring about change.

In college, I became passionate about the social determinants of health after studying abroad, but I came to my postbac fellowship at NIH knowing little about health disparities in the United States. The NIH Academy provided an opportunity to explore issues affecting Americans of all stripes and quickly became the highlight of my week.

Through journal clubs, research talks, and community outreach, we covered a variety of topics related to health disparities. We have spoken with investigators who are using techniques as disparate as genomics, psychology, and community-based participatory research in order to document and address health disparities; we have read about and discussed cutting-edge research; and we took a multisession diversity course that allowed us to reflect on our own privileges and challenges so we can better connect with future patients and research collaborators.

Through all our activities, a central theme emerged: Communication—among researchers, clinicians, policy makers, public-health workers, patients, and the community—is essential to eliminating health disparities. Good communication can increase the public’s knowledge and awareness of health issues and refute misperceptions. Often, that communication occurs best when conducted in partnership with community members.

One of our first lectures walked us through the process of developing animated public service announcements to prevent gun violence in Philadelphia. The animations were produced with the help of many city youth and were used in several other cities, demonstrating the vast impact that one idea can have. In another lecture, we looked at Asian-language pamphlets that were intended to decrease the stigma associated with hepatitis C. Developed with community representatives, each pamphlet addressed particular community fears about the virus. I came away from both lectures in awe of the creativity of these interventions. My time in the Academy has strengthened my commitment to resolving health disparities and reminded me that this work can be fun, too!

Trainees who are interested in participating in the next session of the NIH Academy (September–May) are invited to submit letters of interest emphasizing a strong desire to learn about health disparities. For more information, visit http://www.training.nih.gov/new_nih_academy_home or contact Shauna Clark (clarkshauna@mail.nih.gov or 301-594-3753).