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Dr. Gibbons, NHLBI Seek to Inspire the Next Generation of Minority Doctors, Researchers

“In the face of adversity, you have to have faith that you can be committed to succeed,” said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to a group of 12 students from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.

Dr. Gibbons welcomed the students, who are part of a Jackson Heart Study (JHS) Education and Training Program, at the start of their two-day visit to the NIH. He advised them to work with passion and to surround themselves with mentors and advisers who could provide guidance.

The students asked Dr. Gibbons how he managed to stay committed during times of struggle. He shared the story of his mother who spent her childhood in Camden, New Jersey, during the Great Depression. She was an orphan who was adopted by a family who already had 13 children of their own. She worked hard and went on to become valedictorian of her high school class, earn a graduate degree, and raise her own children—all of who became doctors.

“I was raised by someone who faced all of the adversity you could imagine,” he said. “Whenever I got feelings that life had thrown too much at me, I looked at her.” 

After his presentation, Dr. Gibbons took the time to talk to each student and let each one know that one day he or she could be leading groundbreaking research.

Sophmore Breland Crudup said he was moved by Dr. Gibbons’ journey and the words of encouragement. He also said he hopes to one day intern at the NIH.

“His time is so valuable and he chose to spend it with us,” said sophomore Jessica Guiterrez Torres. “He made a place as large as the NIH seem personable. This is where I want to be.”

The students’ visit included tours of the National Library of Medicine, the NIH Clinical Center, and an NHLBI laboratory visit with Dr. Goukai Chen. Dr. Danielle Springer also toured the students around the NHLBI’s Murine Phenotyping Core, where they were able to see research in motion with mice, talk to lab members, and learn about state-of-the-art research equipment.

Career advisers and alumni met with the group to offer advice about such things as; preparing for the future, goal setting, utilizing available resources, and making connections. A special lunch with current NIH interns gave the students an insider’s perspective of what to expect and how to get involved with the NIH .

“I am a psychology major and I found out from the interns that there are many training opportunities for me at the National Institute of Mental Health,” said sophomore Amanda Dortch. “Now, coming to the NIH is definitely part of my career plan.”

The students were also given special scientific lectures from NIH leaders. Dr. Carla Easter, deputy chief of the education and community involvement branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute, sparked the students’ interest with a discussion titled “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code.” To supplement the presentation, Dr. Easter accompanied the group downtown to tour the Genome exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Robert S. Balaban, scientific director, NHLBI Division of Intramural Research, presented to the students on the systems biology of the mitochondria.

“Dr. Balaban blew our minds when he told us that mitochondria are not shaped like a bean,” said sophomore Kiplyn Taylor. “We couldn’t believe it. That’s not what I was taught and now I want to learn more from him.”

The visit to the NIH helps achieve the program’s goals of creating a pool of well-trained students who can successfully complete undergraduate and graduate or professional degrees in health professions and public health.

The purpose of the training program is to train minority students, especially African-Americans, to carry out medical research studies like the Jackson Heart Study (JHS), which is the largest investigation of causes of cardiovascular diseases in an African-American population. The study is uniquely positioned to investigate risk factors, especially manifestations related to hypertension such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and renal disease. Students in the training program have the opportunity to participate in analysis of data from the study and gain practical experience with researchers to help prepare them for potential careers. JHS is a collaborative effort involving Jackson State University, Tougaloo College, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The program receives support from the NHLBI, the Office of Research on Minority Health, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities.