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Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable Helps Raise Others Up

September 15, 2022

In recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month, today I wanted to spotlight a leader in health care and disparities research at NIH. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D. is director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), which advances the science of minority health and health disparities research through research, training, research capacity development, public education, and information dissemination. Dr. Pérez-Stable has focused on improving the health of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups throughout his distinguished career.

Shaped by Social Justice and Personal Experience

Dr. Pérez-Stable immigrated to the United States from Cuba as a child, later attending medical school at the University of Miami. He completed his primary care internal medicine residency and a research fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He built a career there, eventually serving as chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine until he joined NIMHD in 2015.

His passion for social justice and his experiences and observations of Latino health in the United States influenced Dr. Pérez-Stable’s career. At an early stage, he became interested in communications factors between Latino patients and non-Latino clinicians, both language barriers and differences in culture and communication styles—and he was motivated by the lack of diverse health information.

"As I initiated a general internal medicine research fellowship, learned epidemiological methods, and formulated topics for research ideas, I found a dearth of information about Latino health," said Dr. Pérez-Stable. "I committed to doing something about that, and as an early assistant professor, I set the goal of becoming a national expert on Latino and minority health."

He cites the 1985 publication of the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health as another strong influence. Known as the Heckler Report, this landmark study was the first to document the existence of health disparities among racial and ethnic minority communities, becoming a catalyst for monumental changes in research programs, legislation, and policy related to minority health.

Dr. Pérez-Stable went on to lead research that addressed chronic diseases, aging, cancer prevention, and tobacco control in Latino populations while supporting early-career scientists in minority aging research in clinical and community settings.

"My career trajectory has influenced my leadership at NIMHD toward a focus on the science of minority health and health disparities, leveraging methods from multiple disciplines and spanning a broad spectrum of challenges as outlined in the NIH Minority Health and Health Disparities Strategic Plan," said Dr. Pérez-Stable.

Advancing an Impactful Public Health System Through a Diverse Workforce

Scientific and medical workforce diversity is essential to conducting good science, providing the best patient care, and producing a truly impactful public health system.

Through a workforce diverse in race and ethnicity and lived experiences, "We invite creativity and innovation in research and practice," said Dr. Pérez-Stable. "We reduce bias in research funding decisions, research topic prioritization, and workplace dynamics, including hiring, mentoring, and career advancement practices. We create equity in scientific application review and funding."

And from a public perspective, diversity in the scientific and medical workforce creates meaningful research studies that reflect the interests of study populations and increases public understanding of science and its benefits to public health.

"Our experience during this COVID-19 pandemic has elucidated the importance of this point, where misinformation and disinformation have created confusion and disbelief in science-based public health guidance, leading to worldwide declarations of inaccurate, false, or misleading forms of information as major public health threats," said Dr. Pérez-Stable.

NIMHD's commitment to recruiting and training a diverse workforce is evident in initiatives such as its Health Disparities Research Institute. The annual training program supports the career development of early-stage investigators and stimulates research in disciplines that support health disparities science. Since 2015, it has hosted over 400 scholars, of whom 60 percent are from groups underrepresented in science.

A Shared Commitment to Enhancing Scientific Workforce Diversity

COSWD and NIMHD share a commitment to enhancing workforce diversity across NIH and in the research and institutions it supports. Both entities are aligned in their work to promote research training and capacity-building programs that strengthen pathways for underrepresented scientists.

For example, the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program, devoted to creating cultures of inclusive excellence at NIH-funded institutions, creates natural synergies between COSWD and NIMHD in fostering research environments attractive to scientists from underrepresented groups.

Another synergistic endeavor is UNITE, a driving force to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and greater scientific community. NIMHD Deputy Director Dr. Monica Webb Hooper and NIMHD Scientific Director Dr. Anna Nápoles co-chair the UNITE U and N committees, respectively.

According to Dr. Pérez-Stable, a core value of his UCSF research group was "help raise others up." He continues this tenet at NIH through his commitment to advancing the science of minority health and health disparities research. Dr. Pérez-Stable inspires many of us in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, and the COSWD team is fortunate to have NIMHD as a steadfast collaborator.