Participation in the NIH Loan Repayment Programs has had a major impact on the careers of thousands of research scientists. Initial evaluation findings show that participants in the NIH extramural LRPs stay in research careers longer, apply for and receive more research grants, and become independent investigators more frequently than their colleagues who do not receive LRP funding.
The following success stories highlight current and former LRP participants who are making significant contributions to their respective fields.
Amanda Botticello, Ph.D., M.P.H.: Research ScientistDr. Amanda Botticello is a Senior Research Scientist in the Outcomes & Assessment Laboratory at Kessler Foundation and Assistant Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Dr. Botticello received her B.A. in Psychology in 1995, Magna Cum Laude, from Amherst College; her M.P.H. in Community Health Sciences in 2000 from the University of California, Los Angeles; and her Ph.D. in Public Health in 2005 from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed postdoctoral training in mental health and aging at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research at Rutgers University in 2007. Dr. Botticello’s research focuses on public health outcomes for persons with chronic disability.
How do traumatic injury and acquired physical disability affect community outcomes?
Through my research, I have come to understand that the circumstances that lead to chronic disability are not random and not entirely due to physical and cognitive impairment. Social processes and environmental factors can contribute to disparities in successful adjustment to disability and reentry into a community. My work is focused on the sociodemographic factors that influence the experience of chronic disability and are particularly important to a patient’s recovery, social inclusion, and reintegration into the workforce. I look at what happens to people after injury and quantify empirical evidence to determine the conditions that ease injured people into a socially inclusive environment. Certain circumstances have shown to be more difficult for social reentry, such as economic hardship, accessibility factors, and social support.
What advice do you have for others going through the application process?
Applying to the LRP is similar to applying to grants or getting published in that you can’t give up. Persistence pays off. Although I was not successful in getting funded the first time I applied for an LRP award, subsequent applications were awarded. I am now on my second renewal!
How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
Graduate school and training for this field is a long process and in that process you typically incur debt from your educational expenses. Having an LRP award alleviates the pressure through assistance in mitigating that debt. Every little bit helps! Along with my K99 career development award from the NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the LRP awards I have received have allowed me to continue the research I love. I am now able to stay focused in working in a nonprofit academic research environment.
To learn more about our clinical research LRP, please click here.
Nan Hatch, D.M.D., Ph.D.: Craniofacial ResearcherDr. Nan Hatch is Assistant Professor in the University of Michigan Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry.
Dr. Hatch received her B.S. in Psychology in 1990 from Tufts University; her D.M.D. in 1999 from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine; her orthodontic certificate in 2003 from the University of Washington in Seattle; and her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2005 from the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Hatch’s research focuses on studying and finding cures for craniofacial abnormalities, especially in pediatric populations. To read more about her research on genetic mutations and their effect on craniofacial anomalies, click here.
How did you decide to follow your line of work?
I went to dental school expecting to graduate and be a general dentist. When I was applying to dental school I started working in a research lab for the first time as a lab technician, and I very much enjoyed that work. I did some research as a dental student and that’s when I discovered that there were fields such as academic dentistry and orthodontics. I was encouraged by faculty to choose a more academic goal and pursue research in addition to dentistry. I then did a combination clinical advanced training program in orthodontics and a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology at the University of Washington after dental school – at that point with the plan of becoming an academic orthodontist with a primary focus on research relevant to orthodontics in pediatric populations.
What is your research today?
Because I’m an orthodontist interested in the development of the craniofacial skeleton (skeleton of the face and skull), I became very interested in what is known as craniofacial anomalies. I study babies who are born with significant abnormalities of the head and/or face. During my Ph.D., I did cell-based research in order to understand how genetic mutations that are known to cause some of these craniofacial anomalies influence cell behavior. I wanted to know what was happening in the cells, with the longterm goal of developing a pharmaceutical intervention to prevent the disorders. I’ve since broadened out from cell work to look more at translational models. Now I do both in-vivo and in-vitro research to investigate the molecular cause of these craniofacial abnormalities. My work focuses on developing pharmaceutical interventions that may diminish the severity and, ideally, prevent these abnormalities.
How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
I cannot say enough good things about the program because having gone through four years of dental school, which is very expensive, and then a two-and-a-half year orthodontics residency and then a six-year Ph.D., etc., etc., the student loans added up! Most people who go through dental school are going out into private practice and they pay off their student loans without a problem. But the idea of trying to become and remain an academic with the level of student loans I had was horrifying. I’m not sure I could have remained in academia without the LRP.
To learn more about our clinical research LRP, please click here.
Ronald L. Hickman, Jr., Ph.D., R.N., ACNP-BC: Nurse Scientist and PractitionerDr. Ronald L. Hickman is an Assistant Professor and acute care nurse practitioner at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Nursing.
Dr. Hickman received his B.A. in Biological Science in 2000 from Case Western Reserve University; his Certificate of Professional Nursing in 2002 from Case Western Reserve University; his M.S.N. in 2006 from Case Western Reserve University; and his Ph.D. in 2008 in Nursing Science from Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Hickman’s research centers on helping patients and their family members make informed decisions about healthcare and supporting individuals from ethnic and disadvantaged populations engage in self-management. In addition to his research interests, Dr. Hickman maintains a clinical practice that focuses on the needs of critically ill patients and their families. To read more on his chronic clinical illness research, click here.
What sparked your interest in medical research?
I knew from an early age that I had an interest in health sciences and STEM programs. However, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I matriculated as an undergraduate to my current research institute, Case Western Reserve University. As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure of meeting some nurses who guided my career direction. I became an RN and worked in a career with high patient acuity with patients who needed critical care. That environment was “high touch and high technology” and allowed me to look at the physiologic, biologic, and psychosocial problems that patients and their families can face. After receiving my license as a registered nurse, I went on to obtain my master’s in nursing, and then my Ph.D., which led to a career in research.
Have you performed any NIH-funded research?
Now I am funded by an R15 from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), as well as the LRP from the National Center on Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), and I have dedicated my research career to assisting patients and their family members make informed decisions about healthcare. I was funded through NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) for a project that identified at-risk populations – the populations that are underserved or have poorer outcomes – to provide them with a resource that could improve their interactions with healthcare providers and the quality of their healthcare. The project’s goal was to design and build a computer application – an avatar – that acts as a coach to guide patients through tough healthcare decisions. We focused on traditional ethnic minority groups; first generation immigrants; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) community members who may have felt bias in a traditional doctor setting. These people maybe felt like they didn’t get what they needed from their healthcare providers. The avatar program helped them to build their skills and confidence via interacting with the device, which is useful when they step into an actual medical facility and need to interact with medical personnel.
How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
My career goals are to remain in academia and to teach and maintain a clinical practice. I believe that the LRP is still contributing to my advancement of my career and my professional development. I’m still receiving funds from the LRP, which allows me to have dedicated time to continue cultivating my research. You can’t put a price tag on that! Having the financial support from the LRP helps me to be extremely competitive in my career.
To learn more about our health disparities research LRP, please click here.
Robert Lucero, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.: Using Consumer Health Information Technology to Improve Health Outcomes of Vulnerable and Underserved PopulationsDr. Robert Lucero is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the Columbia University School of Nursing and is associated faculty of the Center for Evidence-Based Practice in the Underserved, the Northern Manhattan Center of Excellence in Minority Health and Health Disparities, and is affiliated faculty of the Center for Health Policy.
Dr. Lucero received his Associate of Applied Science in Nursing in 1995 from Arizona Western College; his B.S. in Nursing in 2001 from Arizona State University; his M.P.H. in Community Health in 2003 from University of Arizona; his M.S. in Nursing in 2004 from Arizona State University; and his Ph.D. in 2008 in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Lucero is an AcademyHealth-Aetna Foundation Scholar, a Ford Foundation Faculty Fellow of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine. In addition to receiving LRP awards, Dr. Lucero received a T32 institutional training grant as a pre- and post-doctoral fellow and is currently the Principal Investigator of an R01, New York City Hispanic Dementia Caregiver Research Program. His research focuses on improving the quality and access of healthcare among underserved populations through the use of technology in self-management. To learn more on his health outcomes research, click here.
What are the goals of your research?
My goal is to improve quality and access to healthcare for vulnerable populations by developing, testing, and evaluating the effectiveness of consumer health information technology innovations. I primarily focus on the use and adaptation of electronic personal health information managements systems as a platform for self-management of chronic conditions. My current study focuses on how Hispanic family caregivers manage and maintain health and healthcare information in the dementia dyad. Using technology to engage communities and improve health outcomes is a central theme of my research.
What advice do you have for other researchers considering the LRPs?
- Make sure you’re in a good environment rich with research resources – both structural and human resources.
- A good mentor can lead you in the right direction.
- Play to your strengths when describing your research ideas.
- Think about your science and where you want it to go.
- Think critically about your research and how it affects your goals and the scientific community as a whole.
How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
The LRP application process has provided an opportunity for me to reflect on how my program of research might look in 10 or 20 years. Writing a proposal that would be considered based on a competitive process forced me to meet the challenge of constructing clear ideas about my program of research. This process over the last 4 years has helped me stay focused on a program of research that has led to many successes, including receiving funding of an R01. Real benefits for me related to the LPR include the 50% release time for research. Overall, the LRP has allowed me to set the ground work to propel my career as an accomplished scientist in consumer health informatics with a focus on improving quality and access to healthcare for vulnerable populations including Hispanics and older adults.
To learn more about our health disparities research LRP, please click here.
Brendesha M. Tynes, Ph.D.: Tracing Adolescents’ Online ExperiencesDr. Brendesha M. Tynes is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.
Her research focuses on Adolescent experiences in online settings. In addition to receiving an LRP, Dr. Tynes has also received an R01 to study Racial Discrimination from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.
After college, I got a job as a history teacher and taught for one semester before I realized I needed more training in classroom management and youth psychosocial development. In graduate school, I became more interested in the internet and decided to focus on education and children’s interaction with technology. My primary goal is to paint a holistic picture of adolescent experiences in online settings – both positive and negative aspects. The LRP along with a grant from the Ford Foundation has been key to my success, and while receiving LRP support, I developed the Online Victimization Scale for adolescents. This scale, which has become the basis of all of my work, is a 21-item measure that contains four domains – general, sexual, individual racial discrimination and vicarious online racial discrimination. With this measure, researchers may categorize online experiences and assess why the experience occurred. Also, the scale is significant because it is the first to focus on racial discrimination. I have just recently joined the USC faculty and am now in the third year of my R01. I am particularly interested in how individual resources and coping mechanisms may protect youth from online victimization. This exciting field is advancing quickly, and as my career progresses, I want to use my work to empower youth and help them avoid discrimination and cope with the messages they receive.
Advice for Researchers Who Transfer NIH Grants to New Institutions
For additional advice on successfully changing institutions, listen to the All About Grants podcast
- Start paperwork as early as possible.
- Talk with new institution about the items that will need to transfer.
- Ask whether you can receive advance funding for all aspects of the grant.
- Be clear about the details and ensure you can hit the ground running.
- Really get to know your NIH program officer and grants management specialist and keep them posted every step of the way.
“Taking Your Grant With You When You Move
Rachel C. Vreeman, M.D., M.S.: Storyteller, Myth-buster and Advocate for the World’s ChildrenDr. Rachel C. Vreeman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Dr. Vreeman’s research focuses on pediatric adherence to antiretroviral therapy in resource-limited settings, and she spends almost half of the year in Kenya as part of the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), an Indiana University-Moi University School of Medicine partnership. In addition, Dr. Vreeman, who has a K23 from the National Institutes of Mental Health, is an expert myth-buster who has co-authored two books – Don’t Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-Truths and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health and Don’t Cross Your Eyes…They’ll Get Stuck That Way! And 75 Other Health Myths Debunked. You may follow her adventures at Doctor V Goes Over the Sea.
I’ve always wanted to do research to improve healthcare for children in the world’s poorest places, and having an LRP award helped me eliminate my tremendous loan burdens and allowed me to stay on this career path. Through the partnership that Indiana University School of Medicine has in Kenya, I am able to work in a large HIV care system with 25 clinics across western Kenya. We have cared for nearly 25,000 children since the partnership began — and 130,000 patients altogether. My work focuses on the challenges to maintaining children’s HIV care over the long-term, particularly how we can improve adherence to medication and guide families through HIV disclosure. When in Kenya, I do clinical work about two days per week and spend the rest of my time implementing clinical research projects. About seven percent of the Kenyan population has HIV, but most are not open about having HIV. Even for adults, there’s a fear of stigma, discrimination and isolation, so my pediatric patients are often unaware of their HIV status. Caretakers may tell them that they are being treated for chest problems, for another disease such as tuberculosis, or sometimes, they simply say, “If you don’t take your meds, you will get sick and die.” As a result, only 11 percent of six to 14-year-olds in Kenya with HIV know their status. We especially worry about disclosure once children are 13 or 14. At 14, our pediatric patients have to move into the adult HIV care programs and take responsibility for their own treatment. This is a big challenge when no one has ever prepared you for the fact that you have HIV. This is also an age when many adolescents are questioning why they have to take medicines at all and may have more trouble sticking to a treatment routine. Like most teens, they just want to be normal.
My research helps me figure out how we can best address these issues for the world’s 2.3 million HIV-infected patients, most of whom live in places like Kenya. My blog includes snippets of the issues we combat. Nearly every day, I see children who are wrestling with HIV and other diseases of poverty and their caretakers who carry the weight of a tremendous secret on top of all their other struggles. I love how research helps us figure out the answers to questions. Research helps us figure out everything from what we can do to help these families in Kenya to how the body really works. My myth-busting started out as a lighthearted way to address all of those things you just “know” about your body and health. As someone who teaches in the medical school, I help students learn to carry out evidence-based medicine. Our myth-busting books are a fun way to teach people how we look at scientific evidence and determine what is true. Here a few of my favorite myths that have been studied and proven false:
Common Medical Myths
- Sugar makes kids hyper.
- Children who are in daycare tend to be sicker than others.
- You need to drink 8 glasses of water per day.
- Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight.
- You need to stretch before running.
Carrie Breton, Ph.D.: Five Tips for Applying for Career Development AwardsDr. Carrie Breton, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, is an Environmental Epidemiologist who investigates how Environmental factors affect Children’s Health.
Her recent accomplishments include receiving a career development award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, publishing a paper in Epigenetics and presenting at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society. Dr. Breton received an LRP in 2008.
Applying for the LRP was my first initial jump into the federal funding game. It was like writing a mini grant proposal, and at first, I must admit the process was kind of daunting. My success in receiving the funding let me know that I was on the right career track, and since then, I have received a grant from the American Heart Association and the K01. My current research focuses on the effects of air pollution and tobacco smoke on children’s cardiopulmonary health. While most genetic marks are inherited, others may be affected by environmental factors while children are still in the womb. I am specifically interested in knowing what happens within this window of opportunity. For the research associated with my K01 award, I will use data from the Children’s Health Study to analyze the prenatal effects of air pollution.
What advice can you offer for other people applying for K awards?
- Give yourself at least three months to prepare and know all of the associated deadlines. This includes deadlines set by your institution.
- Understand the award you are applying for and ensure it fits your career stage. I thought about applying for a K99/R00, but since I was close to getting a faculty position, I opted for the K01.
- Enlist the help of colleagues. USC senior faculty members are great mentors. I’m a part of a junior investigator seminar that meets weekly to discuss grant ideas, do mock reviews and practice presentations. The group also helps critique and edit documents.
- Do your research and talk to the program officer. I spent time looking on the Web sites of the NIH Institutes and Centers and talked to program officers to ensure I knew where my research fit.
- Be persistent. I did not receive a K award with my first application, but followed up on my score and summary statement to improve my second application.
Naomi Hamburg, M.D.: Moving from career development to independent research fundingDr. Naomi Hamburg is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine and an attending Cardiovascular Physician at Boston Medical Center.
In addition to receiving the NIH LRP, Dr. Hamburg was supported through the NHLBI Research Career Development Program in Vascular Medicine K12 program at BU. She received an R01 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that funds her research on Translational Studies of vascular function in Diabetes and Peripheral Artery Disease.
I am fascinated by the promise of bringing Novel Scientific Discoveries into clinical practice in Cardiology. Recent estimates suggest that more than 170 million people worldwide have diabetes. There is a critical need to create innovative strategies to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and amputations in this high risk group. In my laboratory, we concentrate on advancing our knowledge of how blood vessel function becomes abnormal in patients with diabetes. The NIH commitment to career development through funding and trainee support has been critical to my successful transition to an independent research career in clinical investigation.
My advice for early career investigators applying for research project grants:
- Get to know your NIH program officers. I met program officers and NIH scientists at K12 trainee meetings and their advice has been extremely valuable. The NHLBI program officers are knowledgeable about my area of science, are always available, and have guided my grant applications.
- Establish a mentoring group. Pick a few key trusted colleagues to review your specific aims and refine your research approach.
- Demonstrate innovation and feasibility. Use your time during the career development award period to show productivity and generate preliminary data to support your experimental objectives.
- Understand NIH support of Early Stage Investigators. The NIH is committed to increase funding success for individuals transitioning to independence. Talk to your program officer about how policies for ESIs can benefit you.
- Communicate clearly. Make sure your fabulous ideas are understandable to diverse audiences. Give yourself enough time to revise your proposal for clarity.
Tracy Riggins, Ph.D.: R03 Recipient Highlights Keys to Research SuccessDr. Tracy Riggins is an LRP Recipient whose Research focuses on Memory Development in Early Childhood.
She leads the Neurocognitive Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland, College Park, and since joining the Maryland faculty, Dr. Riggins has received R03s from both the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Receiving support from the Loan Repayment Programs gave me the option of completing two postdocs – one that introduced me to advanced brain imagery techniques and another that helped me master these techniques. This training proved essential for me and refined the imaging skills that led directly to my NIDA grant. The number of children’s memories double between ages three and six, and I am interested in looking at the brain to discover what’s behind this increased capacity. After all, these are the cognitive and behavioral memories that make our autobiographical memories rich and meaningful. My lab is growing rather rapidly. When we started in 2008, I had one study, but I now have 10 as well as three graduate, 15 undergraduate and 1 high student working alongside me. Also, the university has invested in imaging technology, and I will now be able to do more advanced work onsite and hopefully, develop paradigms for working with young children.
What are your keys to success?
In research, it’s sometime hard to balance teaching, mentoring and research loads. It’s even more difficult when you’re like me and have a new baby at home. One key to success is finding good mentors in your field and department. You need people who will give you candid feedback and help you navigate issues. Also, the overall environment has to be supportive. My department supports junior faculty, and I’m lucky to have excellent female role models.
How do you prep for a grant application?
When I apply for grants, I like to start early and enlist assistance. For both R awards I sought feedback from at least two senior investigators. When developing my timeline, I ensured that I accommodated their schedules, as well as my own and my university’s. Also, I reached out the Institutes that were likely to fund my projects. I spoke with the NIDA program officer because the grant that I applied for and later received differed from similar mechanisms. The program officer was able to confirm that my research met qualifications.
Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H.: Former NIH Loan Repayment Program Participant Tackles Major Public Health Care Issues in New York New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah is helping to transform the Nation’s largest Medicaid system with a coordinated effort to redesign its Components and reduce the state’s Medicaid spending by $2.3 billion.
Prior to this appointment, Dr. Shah was an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, Associate Investigator at the Geisinger Center for Health Research in central Pennsylvania and an Assistant Professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Shah received a clinical LRP in 2006 and successfully renewed in 2008 and 2010. He is regarded as an expert in the use of systems-based methods to improve patient outcomes and is a leading researcher in the use of large scale clinical laboratories and electronic health records.
Research is definitely the best training ground for anyone who may have an interest in public policy. It opens a lot of doors, and it’s easier to transition to a policy role because you know the language and are aware of the issues. Having the NIH LRP definitely allowed me to do work that interested me. Also, because I didn’t have to worry about a large debt load, I could comfortably purchase a home and start a family. With my new position, I now have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of people.
I started January 3, but had only begun to consider the position in December. I had to leave grants, papers, consulting jobs as well as a variety of speaking engagements. I also had to invest in a completely new wardrobe – suits instead of khakis. Thankfully, I have a phenomenal and extensive staff that is helping me through this transition, and we’ve hit the ground running. I am focused on reducing costs, maintaining access and improving the quality of the health care New Yorkers receive. To this end, we have already assembled a redesign task force and have 4,000 reform suggestions worth well over $4 billion.
With both rural and urban areas, New York is a virtual microcosm of the U.S., and health care delivery is quite different in the Bronx than in Buffalo. There are no one-size-fits all solutions. The health care industry has been reluctant to embrace the paradigm shifts of information technology. In 20 years, everyone will have electronic health records, and this will impact how and where health care is delivered. We will no longer see the doctor just three times per year for 20 minutes each. Instead, the paradigm of healthcare will expand so that the care continuum will extend to almost anytime and anywhere.
To read additional LRP success stories, Click Here.
Date Last Updated: March 17, 2014