When Cynthia Blanco, M.D., found out last year that she was a semi-finalist for a four-year fellowship for minority medical faculty sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), she nearly jumped for joy.
But then she discovered that the final round of interviews was scheduled to take place just two days after the date she was due to deliver her baby. Thankfully, fate stepped in. Blanco delivered her baby one week early. And five days later, Blanco, a neonatologist at the University of Texas in San Antonio, dialed up officials at the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program and informed them she was heading to Washington, D.C.
Still weary from labor, delivery and recovery, Blanco packed an overnight bag and a breast pump, said goodbye to her newborn, and boarded a plane for Washington. “I could barely walk, I could barely fit into a nice outfit, and my post-partum brain was not working very well,” she recalls. “It was quite a trip!”
The effort, though, turned out to be worth it. Blanco found out soon after that she was one of 11 physician scientists selected to participate in the prestigious program in 2010. “This will definitely launch my career,” she says.
Named for Harold Amos—the first African American person to chair a department at Harvard Medical School and the program’s first national director—the Harold Amos Program supports outstanding young medical faculty who are racial or ethnic minorities, come from low-income families or face other kinds of social barriers.
Under the program, participants receive mentored career development research awards that include an annual stipend of up to $75,000 and a $30,000 annual research grant. During the four-year program, scholars study and conduct research in association with a senior faculty member and participate in a variety of networking opportunities.
The goal of the program is to enhance the diversity of faculty and academic leaders in the nation’s medical schools. A more diverse medical school faculty, program officials believe, will help generate a more diverse health care workforce, which will improve the health and health care of all Americans.
Harold Amos Scholars are a ‘Family’ of Physician Scientists
“This is more than a grant, this is a family,” says Adriana Tremoulet, one of six scholars who commenced the program in January. “We’re all grateful for the funding, but it far exceeds that. We’re provided with a network of physician scientists at a national level that we would otherwise have absolutely no access to.”
Tremoulet, a first-generation American, is using her grant to create a diagnostic test for Kawasaki Disease, a rare illness that leaves untreated children at higher risk for a heart attack. “Here you have a disease that is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in the developing world and yet you have no diagnostic test for it,” she says.
The daughter of Cuban parents, Tremoulet is a rarity herself in that she studies Kawasaki Disease and is fluent in Spanish. Her language abilities enable her to collaborate with physicians in Latin America, communicate easily with Spanish-speaking Kawasaki patients, and educate reporters for Spanish-language media about the illness.
Blanco and Tremoulet will meet nine other members of the 2010 cohort at the program’s annual conference this fall in San Diego.
The other four scholars who began the program in January are Jenell Coleman, M.D., M.P.H, who studies HIV at the University of Pennsylvania; Deidra Crews, M.D., who studies chronic kidney disease at Johns Hopkins University; Daniel Cruz, M.D., Ph.D., who studies cardiovascular disease at the University of California at Los Angeles; and Anthony Graves, M.D., Ph.D., who studies cancer at the University of Pittsburgh.
Five more scholars will be starting the program in July. They are Sara Espinoza, M.D., who studies the geriatric syndrome of frailty at the University of Texas in San Antonio; Roy Hamilton, M.D., M.S., who studies neurology at the University of Pennsylvania; Sean McLean, M.D., who studies pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Justin Ortiz, M.D., who studies influenza at the University of Washington; and Vinicio Perez, M.D., who studies pulmonary hypertension at Stanford University.
If the new scholars are anything like their predecessors, they will go on to become leaders in their fields.
In October, the Institute of Medicine—the esteemed arm of the National Academy of Sciences that advises lawmakers, policy-makers and other public and private sector leaders on matters of health and medicine—inducted three Harold Amos Program alumni. A total of eight alumni have been elected to the institute over the past three years.
In November, Harold Amos Program alumnus Robert Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., traveled to the International Space Station aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. And another alumnus—Jesus Araujo of the University of California in Los Angeles—received the Outstanding New Environmental Scientist Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Scholars have also made headlines in recent months in national media including USA Today, National Public Radio and the Associated Press, and in local newspapers such as the Ventura County Star, the Indianapolis Star and the (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette. Health journals and trade publications such as HealthNewsDigest.com, Medpage Today and the Archives of Neurology have also recently covered the work of scholars.
The program will be accepting applications for its 2011 cohort of scholars until March 17, 2010.