Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS
Growing up in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, a health professional shortage area, Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, remembers countless stories of loved ones and members of her community who struggled with their health or died prematurely. That experience led her to pursue a career in medicine and conduct research that focuses on vulnerable populations and their interactions with healthcare systems.
Ever since her arrival at Yale as a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (CSP), Dr. Nunez-Smith has been on a mission to develop ways of addressing health and healthcare inequities wherever they are found: in patient settings, in the healthcare workforce, and in medical education. As a 2006 YCCI Scholar, she gathered preliminary data for what is now known as PreDict (Patient-Reported Experiences of Discrimination in Care Tool). PreDict is a tool that assesses the patient care experience and measures hospital performance with the goal of improving the quality of care delivery. “The Scholar award was tremendously helpful because it allowed me to launch a line of inquiry that was new and then provided me with the resources to complete the preliminary work that allowed us to be competitive for major NIH grants,” she said.
Dr. Nunez-Smith went on to develop the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network (ECHORN), a collaborative multi-million dollar research study funded by the National Institute for Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD). ECHORN examines the risk factors and prevalence of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in the Eastern Caribbean, a region for which such data are lacking.
Both ECHORN and PreDict – which has spurred several related projects undertaken by her mentees – are now incorporated into the Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC), for which Dr. Nunez-Smith serves as director. ERIC builds on the local, national, and global experience of Dr. Nunez-Smith and 60 team members that are involved in research aimed at narrowing health and healthcare inequities, as well as disparities in the healthcare workforce and medical education.
As a former YCCI Scholar, Dr. Nunez-Smith appreciates the benefits of mentorship and serves as academic advisor to Yale School of Medicine students. She also continues her involvement with the CSP as a core faculty member of the Scholars Program and co-director of Community Research Initiatives. “I’m working towards synergy across all of these programs so they’re not siloed,” she said. “The idea is to think about core elements of knowledge for our faculty for population health and health equity and engage stakeholders in our work.”
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