How the NURTURE Program Supports Faculty Recruitment and Equity

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Northwestern Medicine a transformative grant of $16 million. This funding will aim to disrupt systemic barriers that impede the full participation of underrepresented groups.

This initiative, called the Northwestern University Recruitment to Transform Under-Representation and achieve Equity (NURTURE) Program, is one of only 11 such awardees to date in the country.

In this episode of Better Edge podcast, Melissa A. Simon, MD, MPH, primary investigator and project leader for the grant, discusses how Northwestern Medicine plans to use the grant to ensure the success of faculty members from historically underrepresented populations.
How the NURTURE Program Supports Faculty Recruitment and Equity
Featured Speaker:
Melissa Simon, MD, MPH
Dr. Simon's primary research interests are aimed at promoting health equity and eliminating health disparities among low income, medically underserved women across the lifespan. Integrating health services research with social epidemiologic models, Dr. Simon's research focuses on interventions (such as patient navigation and community health outreach workers) that aim to reduce and eliminate such disparities. 

Learn more about Melissa Simon, MD, MPH
How the NURTURE Program Supports Faculty Recruitment and Equity

Melanie Cole (Host): Welcome to Better Edge, a Northwestern Medicine Podcast for physicians. I'm Melanie Coleand joining me today is Dr. Mellisa Simon. She's the George H. Gardner md, Professor of Clinical Gynecology, director of the Center for Health Equity Transformation, and as associate Director of Community Outreach and Engagement for the Robert H Lurey Comprehensive Cancer Center. She joins me to discuss a transformative 16 million grant awarded to Northwestern Medicine over five years from the National Institutes of Health to support faculty recruitment and equity.

Dr. Simon, it's a pleasure to have you join us today as we know data has shown that people from racial ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive preventive healthcare across the board. There's really a disproportionate health burden. Can you start by telling us a little bit about the unique challenges these communities face and the lack of people that look like them in the healthcare industry?

Dr Melissa Simon: Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate this opportunity. yes. I have spent my entire academic and physician career focused on not just achieving health equity for everyone, but also to ensure that the workforce is more diverse because both our healthcare and our scientific workforce are not as diverse as our population across this entire country. And indeed, we know from good research that when. Research studies are designed, by diverse people. And when clinical care is given by diverse people, diverse population members are actually more trustful of both the research and the clinical care and are more willing to engage in either the research or the clinical care or both.

And this is really critical because right now we have a large issue with distrust in this country with respect to science and healthcare. And it's really important that we have as many diverse people with as many unique identities as possible in both those workforces, and that is what this grant seeks to do.

Melanie Cole (Host): Excellent explanation. So comprehensive. And it really is true that there really is healthcare disparities, and as a result, the healthcare industry is now recognizing this, as you said. So tell us about this transformative grant that was awarded to Northwestern Medicine, about $16 million over five years from NIH. What is the funding from this grant designed to support?

Dr Melissa Simon: Yes, this grant is supposed to be transformative. It is called Nurture, and that stands for Northwestern University Recruitment to Transform Underepresentation and Achieve Equity. It is a highly competitive grant with many institutions trying to compete to, be awarded one of these grants. we are in the second of three cohorts in the award, and there will be a total of approximately 15 sites across the country. And we are the only site in the Midwest region of the states awarded this grant. This grant aims to do two main things. One is to hire diverse people from across three main scientific disciplines. Cancer, cardiovascular and brain mind and behavior or neuroscience, into cohorts over a two year concentrated period.

And these faculty will be early career and be fostered and supported throughout that time period, of the five years and beyond to really reach a level of scientific excellence so that they can go on to be independent investigators and faculty at Northwestern. The second part of this grant aims to transform literally the way we do business with respect to hiring, onboarding and retaining all kinds of faculty, and clinicians across the entire institution. And that is a really important point because as we hire the faculty, we are going to learn how the programs we use and the approaches we use to hire faculty, how these approaches can actually contribute to improving the way we do the hiring.

The entire hiring process, and retention process. And that's critical for, any institution these days that is in healthcare. because again, like I said earlier, ultimately the goal is to ensure a strong and very diverse workforce across our entire university and Northwestern medicine because when we have diverse identities all around the table, we ultimately can do a better job of educating students and faculty and others. In addition, we can create better research that actually meets the needs of populations. And finally, we can absolutely improve our way of addressing patients and engaging them in clinical care, and ultimately helping to lift health for every.

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Simon, as this grant is university wide, you just mentioned, and you're talking about Cancer, cardiovascular, Brain Mind, and Behavioral Sciences, how does the school plan to use the grant? I'd like you to tell us a little bit about that and what the Nurture Program really is?

Dr Melissa Simon: So the Nurture program will aim to hire approximately five new faculty in their early stages of their career on what we call the tenure track across these three scientific disciplines in cohorts or clusters. And we will have programming embedded in this Nurture Grant that will help support these diverse faculty and hires. The hires will be focused in the Feinberg School of Medicine, and a few will be also focused in McCormick School of Engineering and Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences. So across the university.

Melanie Cole (Host): This is such an exciting, transformative grant, and in addition to supporting the hiring of faculty members from diverse backgrounds, tell us about the three cores that will be supported by the grant Enhancing that Nurture program?

Dr Melissa Simon: Yes. I mean, this is a research grant, and so what we're really trying to do is use this approach and these programs that we embedded in this grant to actually see if we can improve how we hire diverse people with multiple different identities, from across many different expertise areas in a better way, and get them to really thrive in our institution. The three cores are essential to this grant. The three cores are the administrative core, which is where the principal investigators, myself, Dr. Eric Peral from the McCormick School of Engineering, and Dr. Clyde Yancy.

The Vice Dean of Diversity Equity Inclusion in the Feinberg School of Medicine, will administer the grant and coordinate all of the moving parts of the grant. In addition, we have Dr. Rich Dakila, who is the head of NUW CATs, which is the Northwestern University-Wide Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, and he will help, support the administrative core. Trans institutional-wide advisory committee that he will lead. and this will be important to help impact and influence institutional change.

So as we are learning from the evaluation, which will be done by the second core, the evaluation core in real time, we will be able to then feed that information and evaluation into that institution-wide committee that Dr. Dakila will lead. And that will help, promote transformational change across the institution with respect to these hiring and onboarding and retention practices. I think the third core is really important as well because it is the faculty development core and that is where the programming for nurture will lie, and will support the 15 faculty that we hire in this cohort.

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Simon. Working with people from different backgrounds and cultures really presents unique opportunities for collaboration and creativity. In your personal experience, how do you see this materializing at Northwestern Medicine? How will this grant create change at Northwestern Medicine?

Dr Melissa Simon: This grant is so exciting to me. It really is a dream come true, to be honest. I have spent my entire career, like I said, focus on health equity and issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I have dedicated numerous hours and days and years to helping support diverse persons across the entire pipeline of, academia and science and healthcare careers. And this grant will help create change in many ways across Northwestern medicine. First, it will help hire 15 faculty from underrepresented backgrounds. That in and of itself is a huge change and beautiful addition to our current body of faculty that we have here at Northwestern Medicine.

Second, this grant, as we evaluate the programs in real time, we are going to be able to then feed that information into the larger institution as a whole, so that we can influence how business is done, how we hire and reach out to faculty, how we look at different CVs from people of different backgrounds. How we look at the way interview committees or search committees are performed. How we just interview people in general, and then how we onboard and retain faculty. Numerous types of diverse backgrounds. These are all practices that should be examined and improved upon because we can always be better.

Even though Northwestern Medicine is one of the best institutions in the region and in the country, we can always be better at doing this particular thing of hiring. And retaining and helping faculty and clinicians and scientists to thrive regardless of who they are, regardless of their identities.

Melanie Cole (Host): Beautifully said. It's so important to be introspective as you're describing this today, and evaluate and adjust our own behaviors when it comes to the healthcare disparities. As we wrap up Dr. Simon, what resources are available for people who'd like to know more about the Nurture Program and this transformative grant?

Dr Melissa Simon: There are websites that we are about to launch, specific to nurture. They will be launched in about. Two weeks from now in early to mid-November, and we will also have links on my Center for Health Equity Transformations website to the Nurture website. And finally, the National Institutes of Health actually has an entire website with all of the programs, that nurture is a part of, and it is called the First Grant, F i r s t. And that is the NIH. Name for this grant.

Melanie Cole (Host): Thank you so much, Dr. Simon. What an informative podcast and an excellent interview. This was. Thank you again for joining us and to refer your patient or for more information, please visit our website at to get connected with one of our providers. And that concludes this episode of Better Edge, a Northwestern Medicine Podcast for physicians. Please always remember to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast and all the other Northwestern Medicine podcasts. I'm Melanie Cole.