Miller School Hosts NIH-Funded Program to Empower Minority Scientists in Behavioral Medicine, Sleep Disorders

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Eleven scholars completed the Program to Increase Diversity in Behavioral Medicine and Sleep Disorders Research (PRIDE) Summer Institute, an intensive two-week, NIH-funded didactic and mentored research training program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

This is the first year that the Miller School hosted and led the program, which is aimed at preparing underrepresented minorities for successful careers as clinicians, educators, and scientists in behavioral medicine and sleep disorders. Participants were junior-level faculty members and other scientists from a variety of backgrounds.

The PRIDE Institute "has become a flagship program in reducing health disparities and improving health equity in the U.S.,” said Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D.

Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D., director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the Miller School, directed the PRIDE Institute on behavioral medicine, sleep, and circadian sciences before joining the Miller School in 2021. Dr. Jean-Louis has overseen the training and mentoring of more than 200 minority scientists during his 16 years as the PRIDE Institute director.

The full national PRIDE program, which includes nine health disparity-focused categories — from lung disease to cardiovascular disease and obesity — has supported and trained more than 1,000 minority scientists since the institute began.

“Minority scientists — Black, brown, African American, and Latinx — have had difficulties building and staying in their careers because of challenges they face in obtaining the funding they need to sustain their careers,” said Dr. Jean-Louis, who earlier this year was honored with the Associated Professional Sleep Societies’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Award.

‘A Flagship Program’

Research shows, for example, that white researchers applying for NIH grants are nearly twice as likely to win them as Black researchers.

“The PRIDE program was developed to bridge the gap, to reduce this level of inequity in academic medicine. And it has become a flagship program in reducing health disparities and improving health equity in the U.S.,” Dr. Jean-Louis said.

“We did a comparison about five years ago looking at the success rates of PRIDE scholars compared with other scholars submitting NIH proposals contemporaneously,” he said. “Back then, we found that about 38% of PRIDE scholars received funding, versus 20% of other scholars. In a newer analysis, we found that 48% of all PRIDE scholars received NIH funding in the last 16 years.”

After a rigorous annual selection process, about a dozen junior faculty scholars spend two weeks in the program — all expenses paid — including one week spent on didactics training in behavioral sciences, grantsmanship, career development, and professional development.

“We have six core competencies that they have to have mastered by week two, during which we teach and coach them on how to put together competitive applications. They return the following year for a one-week session where the focus is on their own applications to be submitted to the NIH,” said Dr. Jean-Louis.

The program includes one week of didactic training in behavioral sciences, grantsmanship, career development, and professional development.

“Ultimately, anyone who has become part of the PRIDE family can stay with us for as long as they wish. We become their coach, their sponsor,” he said. “More than the typical mentor, we guide them when it comes time to be promoted, we guide them in terms of negotiating salary and position at their universities. This truly has become a family where all the scholars are involved for years and years.”

Former PRIDE Scholar at Miller School

While participants come from around the U.S., some have pursued their careers at the University of Miami and the Miller School. One example is Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., a 2013 PRIDE scholar who is now associate director for the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences and founding director of the Media and Innovation Lab at the Miller School.

Voted one of the 100 most inspiring Black scientists in America by Cell Press, Dr. Seixas has spent the last decade doing extensive research on brain and mental health, aging, cardiovascular disease disparities, and the long-term health consequences of cardiovascular disease and brain health disparities; and developing adaptive, group-tailored, and personalized behavior modification interventions.

Dr. Seixas also studies the use of machine learning analytical tools and artificial intelligence, topics he focused on as part of Dr. Jean-Louis’s PRIDE Institute training team at the Miller School.

Dr. Seixas performed many roles during this year’s PRIDE Institute, including helping scholars map out their plans for the next year.

“This is a program that the NIH has recommended for all PRIDE training programs to include. It serves as a career roadmap for the scholars,” he said.

Pursuing Individual Development Plans

Dr. Seixas also leads scholars through an analysis he created, called SWOTT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and Team).

“With it, we help scholars identify their professional brand, so they are able to pursue their individual development plan. I meet with all the scholars individually, as well as provide peer mentorship in groups,” Dr. Seixas said.

“When we initially created a mentorship team, some of the scholars told us it was hard for them to share their concerns and limitations with our senior folks,” he said. “So, we incorporated as part of our training team peer mentors who are very accomplished, but might only be a year or two ahead of the scholars.”

‘Wraparound Mentorship’

The aim, according to Dr. Seixas, is to provide a “wraparound mentorship,” with support from the program’s directors, staff, and mentoring teams that include PRIDE program faculty and mentors at the scholars’ home institutions.

“The University of Miami sees the value of diversifying the STEM workforce, and we believe this is the best scaffolding and pipeline program to increase the number of scientists, physicians, and physician-scientists that are doing incredible work in science, engineering, and math,” Dr. Seixas said.

Dr. Jean-Louis, who directed the 2022 institute with Olugbenga G. Ogedegbe, M.D., M.P.H., of NYU Langone Health, as co-director, said that bringing the annual institute from New York to the Miller School campus took the full commitment of Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School, and Barbara J. Coffey, M.D., M.S., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“I saw the commitment, and that’s why we’re here,” Dr. Jean-Louis said.

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