Vickers transition headshotBlack history is a fascinating aspect of American history that is ripe for exploration and celebration any time, but Black History Month offers an ideal opportunity to spotlight some of the pivotal figures who contributed much to the fabric of our nation. That’s why I’m so pleased to share news of a grant in partnership with Tuskegee University that honors two exceptional Black Alabamians and lays the foundation for future research excellence in a field that is close to my heart: health disparities.

UAB and Tuskegee University have received a $13.7 million NIH grant to recruit and train 12 new, early-career research faculty members across both institutions under the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) partnership. Faculty will be hired in areas of research strength and opportunity for both UAB and Tuskegee, including cancer, obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neuroscience. Program recruits will be designated as Benjamin-Carver Scientists in honor of two barrier-breaking scientists: 18th U.S. Surgeon General and Heersink School of Medicine alumna Regina Benjamin, M.D., and scientist, inventor, and Tuskegee faculty member George Washington Carver.

I am grateful that our school’s partnership with Tuskegee University will continue to grow and strengthen as we work to build a community of scientists committed to inclusive excellence and addressing health disparities that are especially prevalent here in Alabama and across the southern U.S.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 testing is an area where disparities have emerged in recent years. The NIH, through its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics in Underserved Populations, or RADx-UP, initiative, has awarded Gabriela Oates, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, a $1.2 million grant to better understand the social, ethical, and behavioral factors surrounding COVID-19 testing in vulnerable and underserved communities.

The project, titled Reducing Ethical and Social Prejudicial Effects of COVID-19 Testing in Underserved Populations, or RESPECT-UP, will explore stigma, discrimination, and other social factors that affect COVID-19 testing. It builds on earlier epidemiologic research by Dr. Oates and her colleagues that documented stark racial and socioeconomic disparities in COVID-19 testing, positivity, and case prevalence in Alabama. The findings will enable the researchers to develop actionable strategies to reduce disparities in COVID-19 testing. These will include producing tool kits tailored to various organizational, health care, and community contexts that will promote the delivery of equitable, non-stigmatizing, and non-discriminatory testing.

I’m pleased to share that Raegan Durant, M.D., MPH, has been named to the newly created role of associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Dr. Durant received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 2000 and completed his Internal Medicine residency at Duke in 2003. In 2006, he completed a General Internal Medicine fellowship at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. During his fellowship, he also received a Master of Public Health at Harvard. Following fellowship, he joined UAB’s faculty as an assistant professor and came up through the ranks to become a tenured professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Durant studies health disparities related to chronic disease outcomes and minority participation in clinical trials. He also serves as the medical director at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Authority.

His knowledge and wealth of experience make Dr. Durant an ideal leader to head efforts to operationalize the school’s commitment to achieving excellence through diversity while fostering a campus environment that supports the success of all our students, trainees, and faculty. I hope you’ll join me in wishing him great success in this important new leadership role.

Finally, I invite you to tune in to our Match Day livestream on Friday, March 18. For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, members of the graduating class will gather in person at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center to learn which residency program they have matched into (attendance is restricted to graduates and those on their guest lists). The first match will be announced at 11 a.m. CST, following a short program beginning at 10:45 a.m. Join us online for this annual event that is always filled with excitement and joy.