Daniel E. Jimenez, Ph.D., began his leading-edge research on older Hispanics relatively early in his medical career. Now, at age 40, his culturally appropriate health promotion intervention Happy Older Latinos are Active (HOLA) is helping individuals address their mental health needs at a time of high COVID-19 related stress.
“I have dedicated my career to identifying health disparities affecting the nation’s racial and ethnic minority older adults and developing innovative strategies to reduce these disparities,” said Dr. Jimenez, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Treating mental health problems through health and wellness could appeal to older Latinos as a non-stigmatizing and culturally acceptable alternative to traditional mental health services.”
Dr. Jimenez recently chronicled his professional journey in an article, “An Academic Looks at 40,” published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. He was also profiled by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities last September during Hispanic Heritage Month.
A career in medicine
Growing up in a Cuban-American family in Miami, Dr. Jimenez was interested in a career in medicine at an early age and volunteered at Jackson Memorial Hospital working with children. A first-generation college student, he earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Florida.
“When the opportunity arose to go to graduate school at Palo Alto University in California, I jumped at the chance,” Dr. Jimenez said. “For the first time, I was able to work with older adults in a professional setting, and I began to see how I could combine my cultural, clinical, and research interests.”
While in graduate school earning his doctorate, he met Sheba Kumbhani, a child of immigrants from India, who became his wife. After an internship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, both Dr. Jimenez and Dr. Kumbhani, who is a neuropsychologist, went to Dartmouth College for postdoctoral fellowships.
“I have been very fortunate to have great mentors who have nurtured my passion and have dedicated countless hours in helping me succeed,” he said. “They supported and challenged me to pursue my own research interests.”
Returning to Miami
In 2014, Dr. Jimenez accepted a position at the Miller School and returned to Miami, bringing him closer to older family members. While Dr. Kumbhani launched her neuropsychology practice, Dr. Jimenez initiated the pilot HOLA intervention, building relationships with faculty in the departments of psychology and public health as well as the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
Looking ahead, Dr. Jimenez also plans to expand the pilot HOLA initiative, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, which has been shown to be effective in preventing depression in older Hispanics. “This research could also have implications for other high-risk, highly disadvantaged populations,” he said. “It could address multiple types of disparities among the elderly minority population.”
His other current projects include a study on Preventing Cardiometabolic Disease in HIV-Infected Latino Men through a Culturally Tailored Health Promotion Intervention, with Deborah Jones Weiss, Ph.D., M.Ed., professor of psychiatry. “Older Latinos living with HIV have been disproportionately affected by the epidemic and experience compounded health disparities that have deepened over time,” Dr. Jimenez said. “These health disparities can be preventable or improved with early detection and intervention.”
Dr. Jimenez also mentors younger professionals, encouraging them to pursue their own academic dreams. “The advice I would give to the next generation is to be yourself, and find mentors who will encourage you to stay true to yourself and provide a nurturing environment that allows for your unique voice to be heard,” he said,
Reflecting on his career, Dr. Jimenez said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my life would have unfolded this way, but I am grateful that it has. I have met some truly amazing and brilliant people who are friends as well as colleagues. Now, I want to pursue my vision for health equity in the new decade by developing a diverse workforce. When a patient wants to see a provider that looks like me, they should be able to access high-quality culturally responsive care.”