The proposed Research Training Core is designed to support three separate but related initiatives: 1) a pipeline program that recruits Richmond-area high school and undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups to provide an opportunity for exposure to careers in health services research; 2) a mentored training program enabling clinical faculty within the VCU School of Medicine to conduct rigorous, scientific research in the areas of population health and health disparities and 3) to coordinate current course offerings in the areas of population health and health disparities and enhance existing capacity in educating graduate and professional students.
1) Establish a Health Disparities Scholar Institute (HDSI) to enhance and strengthen health services research training activities and opportunities for high school and undergraduate students. One important mechanism for increasing the number of minority researchers in health-related fields is the recruitment of students into research programs at the high school and undergraduate levels. The VCU School of Medicine currently houses a well-established and highly successful program committed to recruiting underrepresented minority students from the Greater Richmond community into a biomedical research program. However, no program currently exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia to train high school and undergraduate students in health services research. The training core will establish a program designed to expose students to the many opportunities available in health services research. The new program will capitalize on existing community and institutional infrastructure to make meaningful contributions to the deficiency in diversity in the nation’s health profession workforce.
2) Provide multidisciplinary training in research methodology and the science of population health and health disparities for 2 clinical faculty scholars per year through a specialized curriculum and intensive mentoring. Clinical faculty has many ideas and researchable hypotheses stemming from their clinical observations and experiences. However, many lack training in the rigorous research methods required to provide answers to these questions and an awareness of the non-medical determinants of health that contribute to producing differences in health outcomes. The training core will unite participants’ clinical strengths with training in quantitative and qualitative methods from a variety of disciplines, including health services research, epidemiology, biostatistics and economics—approaches that will allow them to address research questions in a creative, systematic manner. Clinical scholars will gain extensive exposure to the science of population health through a mentored research experience. Their resulting research will be critical to informing and advancing clinical policy and practice on a local and national level.
3) Coordinate existing course offerings and enhance capacity to educate graduate and professional students in population health and health disparities research throughout the institution. Several departments at VCU, including Healthcare Policy and Research, Social and Behavioral Health, and Epidemiology and Community Health currently offer courses that address important concepts in population health and health disparities. There is, however, a need to coordinate current course offerings and identify gaps in existing resources to create a cohesive curriculum for individuals interested in health disparities issues. This program will provide a mechanism for coordinating and integrating existing institutional coursework and programs and for identifying opportunities to address gaps in the existing curriculum. Activities geared toward the coordination and enhancement of the curriculum will include administrative coordination of existing course schedules, the publication of course information on the training core website, support for the development of new coursework and laying the foundation for an eventual capstone certificate in population health and health disparities. Such a curriculum represents an opportunity to create a critical mass of scholars pursuing in health disparities research.