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Health Equity Research by Early-stage Investigators Is Recognized

February 28, 2022
by Isabella Backman

The Office of Health Equity Research (OHER) at Yale School of Medicine has announced the five winners of its first annual OHER Award for Yale Research Excellence. OHER was established in 2020 to promote health equity research efforts within the Yale community, at a time when COVID-19 has laid bare many health inequities that still exist in the United States. OHER is dedicated to having long-overdue conversations about the structural realities that have given rise to uneven access to high-quality health care. The office developed the new award to celebrate the work of early-stage investigators studying disparities in medicine. The 2021 finalists and awardees, and their research, can be found here.

“We have great potential in the research arena to make a difference for populations that have been minoritized, marginalized, underserved and underrepresented in research,” says Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, associate dean for health equity research and C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine and Public Health. “This award is in recognition of the stellar work already being done here, and it’s elevating our investigators whom we’ll be passing the baton to in the health equity research space.”

To identify eligible papers, OHER partnered with the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library and research and education librarian Kate Nyhan. With Nyhan’s help, they identified hundreds of papers published during the 2021 calendar year that were first-authored by an early-stage investigator.

“Our library is one of our greatest assets,” says Nunez-Smith.

Eligible papers were considered by an asynchronous review committee that consisted of established Yale investigators and New Haven community leaders, with many members drawing from the established OHER Steering Committee which has driven community-academic partnered research for over 15 years. This review committee narrowed the selection down to 35 papers. Of those, five were designated to be inaugural award recipients. The committee considered the significance of the research, the potential of the work to be game-changing in terms of practice, policy, or process in the field; the novelty of what was being studied, and the rigor and quality of methods applied.

“Having the perspective of community leaders in the reviewing of the articles was essential to this process; we cannot effectively seek to address health inequities and disparities without it.” says Natasha Ray, director of New Haven Healthy Start at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and chair of the OHER Steering Committee.

“It has been a privilege to be exposed to outstanding literature on a fundamentally important research area—health equity,” says Valentina Greco, PhD, Carolyn Walch Slayman Professor of Genetics, who also served as a reviewer. “I found it particularly critical that the review committee consisted of both academicians and community members. Only partnerships across these groups and others can guide us forward in the most impactful and meaningful ways.”

“We haven’t always been successful in the health equity space in the sense that many times, communities in need feel that they aren’t engaged in the enterprise,” says Daniel Sarpong, PhD, executive director of OHER. “Yale, through both the Steering Committee and the OHER Award review committee, is working to center community voice.”

“It’s been joyful to be able to share the news with our early-stage investigators that we see the work that they’re doing and we’re here to support it,” says Nunez-Smith. “I’m excited to see the number of eligible papers rise in the coming years.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on February 28, 2022