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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 26, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 19
New In the Neighborhood

Kisha Braithwaite and Sharon Smith overlook East Baltimore, the focus of their work at the Urban Health Institute. The program's third postdoc is Vijay Singh.

Urban Health Institute adds first postdocs to its team in East Baltimore

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Their feet may still be getting wet as they navigate the complexities of their next education path, but, more importantly, they're here.

In November, the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute welcomed its first three postdoctoral fellows, kicking off a major academic phase for the three-year-old institute charged with marshaling the resources of the university and health system to improve the health outcomes of the residents of East Baltimore — an area of the city shackled with some of the most alarming health care indicators in the nation.

The goal of the UHI Postdoctoral Research Fellowship program is to promote future leaders in the field of urban health research. The fellows, each working in tandem with a Hopkins faculty member, carry out scholarly research and publication on such issues as crime, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases.

The fellows, who are contracted for one year and can continue for another, utilize roughly a third of their time working directly with the Urban Health Institute on tasks that include grant writing and community surveys. The remainder is spent conducting center-based research at the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health or Arts and Sciences.

Claude Earl Fox, the director of the Urban Health Institute, says that the fellowship program provides a vital mechanism for the institute to synergize with centers throughout the university on urban health issues.

"We need to establish collaborations with these academic centers so that together we can better learn what interventions are out there to alleviate some of East Baltimore's health concerns," Fox says. "Quite simply, these fellows give us the ability to have additional research work done in the study of urban health. And, hopefully, these individuals will turn out to be future leaders in their field."

For their part, the fellows develop research proposals and conduct independent research as the foundation for their career development.

The postdocs learn and develop the techniques of community-based participatory research, and have the opportunity to obtain further training in neighborhood analysis, community-based clinical trials and combining qualitative and quantitative methods.

Bernard Guyer, Zanvyl Krieger Professor of Children's Health at the School of Public Health, serves as senior academic adviser to the Urban Health Institute and coordinates the fellowship program. Guyer, who meets monthly with the fellows, says that all three are promising young scholars who share a passion for urban health research.

Vijay Singh, who has a medical degree and a master's in public health from Johns Hopkins, has been working alongside Jacquelyn Campbell from the School of Nursing to survey and interview male primary-care patients for a pilot study on the perpetration of domestic violence.

An epidemiologist, Sharon Smith is working in the Morgan-Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solution with mentor Tiffany Gary, assistant research professor in the School of Public Health's Department of Epidemiology. For the next year, Smith, who received her doctorate from the University of South Carolina, will conduct research in obesity for a college health and wellness study, analyzing data on weight management activities and physical activity.

Kisha Braithwaite, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Howard University, is working with Phil Leaf, a professor in the Department of Mental Health in the School of Public Health, and Tina Cheng, associate professor of pediatrics in the School of Medicine, on violence prevention among youth and HIV/AIDS prevention for adolescent mothers. Currently, Braithwaite is focused on two academic papers: one concerned with black women and depression; the other, with post-traumatic stress disorders in assaulted or injured youth.

When not in the office, Braithwaite says, she's had time to begin to familiarize herself with the community, specifically local charitable and health care organizations and societies. Braithwaite says she applied for the fellowship to expand her knowledge of community-based research, something not focused on in her degree pursuit.

"I also wanted to gain more experience in research in general, working with individuals who are very prominent in their fields," Braithwaite says.

Braithwaite, who previously worked at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in East Baltimore, says she was familiar with the challenges that face that community, but the past two months have opened her eyes even further.

"This experience already has reinforced for me the great need for work to be done in this community," she says. "Since I'm coming from a mental health background, I'm interested in and focused on the environmental factors that influence a person's well-being and how people deal with these stresses."

Smith, in addition to her work with the School of Public Health, has spent a good portion of her time helping the Urban Health Institute develop a grant to increase the number of minorities in doctoral programs.

Fox says that the time and expertise the fellows provide will prove invaluable for the institute. He points to a broad-based health status survey in East Baltimore that the institute plans to carry out later this year that will require extra manpower.

"These three people will help us advance our academic agenda and ultimately help address the issues of East Baltimore," Fox says.

The Urban Health Institute is currently working with other Johns Hopkins centers and with Morgan State University to bring on two to five more postdoctoral fellows next year. Fox says that an announcement on the details of this collaboration should come later next month.


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