asking a very fundamental question: “What is it that we should be doing that we are not doing?” Ruffin said that what he and his colleagues at NIH have tried to do is to bring responses to this question and other related recommendations from the community back to NIH and then convert those recommendations into good science. In this way, he said, a new paradigm is created by keeping things simple and asking the right questions.
NCMHD was founded in 2000 to bring increased national attention to health disparities. Through its specific programs, together with a formal and comprehensive agenda for research on health disparities, NCMHD has increased investments in minority health and health disparities research and activities and improved collaboration within NIH and across federal agencies.
The legislation creating NCMHD mandated that the center establish several programs, Ruffin said. The first is a loan repayment program (LRP), which helps attract the best and the brightest people to this field by paying off their school loans. The model for the LRP is borrowed from a similar program established several decades ago for recruiting scientists to study HIV/AIDS.
The LRP established by NCMHD has successfully built and diversified the biomedical research and health professions workforce in 49 U.S. states, and more than 2,000 individuals have benefited from the program. The program is unique in that graduates from all health professions (for example, physicians, psychologists, and biologists) are eligible, and it is the best way to attract the brightest people working on health disparities. The LRP provides up to $35,000 per year toward student loan repayment if the recipient enters the field of health disparities research. About 38 percent of participants in the LRP are Caucasian, 34 percent are African American, 19 percent are Latino, and about 9 percent are Native American.
The second program established by legislative mandate is the Centers of Excellence (COEs) program, Ruffin said. The program has supported more than 85 centers to conduct scientific research on enhancement of the understanding of minority health and health disparities. Most of these COEs are collaborative partnerships between research-intensive universities and institutions that serve minority populations (for example, Emory University with the Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Alabama with Tuskegee University). The COEs make both parties equal partners in their work together to resolve health disparities. For example, minority institutions can help with the recruitment of minority patients into clinical research or clinical trials.
The third program is a research endowment program. The program is