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Imagine All That You Can Achieve In A Research Career

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.


Dr. Paul EvittsPaul Evitts, Ph.D., CCC-SLP: Speech Language Pathology
Receiving the award has definitely increased
   my productivity in research
Dr. Paul Evitts is an Associate Professor in the Department of Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology and Deaf Studies at Towson University. This interview was conducted in recognition of May’s Better Hearing and Speech Month.

His primary area of research is on speech following laryngectomy and its impact on the listener. This has included research on speech intelligibility, psychosocial issues, listener perception, eye-gaze Exit Disclaimer, and cognitive workload when presented with speech produced by people who have had a laryngectomy. More recently, he has expanded this line of research to include professional speakers with phonotrauma, or those who have a hoarse voice associated with their employment. He has also conducted research in the areas of dysphagia, adult neurogenic disorders, and speech perception. Dr. Evitts received his B.A. and M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology in 1998 and 2000 from the University of Northern Iowa and his Ph.D. in Speech-Language Pathology in 2004 from Bowling Green State University.

What sparked your interest in speech-language pathology?
I actually had two short-lived careers before eventually finding my way to speech-language pathology. I started out with a B.A. in studio art back in 1993 and determined that it wasn’t for me. The term “starving artist” alone didn’t help with my job prospects. Then I did sales for a yellow pages company followed by another sales job with a wireless communications company. Ultimately I decided to pursue a career in speech language-pathology and have found a lot of fulfillment in my profession. I was a “speech kid” when I was younger and the only person who could understand me when I was a child was my sister – which is actually quite common. Not only did I have speech problems but my nieces and nephews have had similar problems as they grew up. So, I definitely feel a personal and emotional connection to the career. Aside from that, there’s good job security in speech-language pathology. I always tell people that you’re never going to get rich in this, but you’ll always be able to find a job. As soon as I went back to school though, I always knew I would go on for my Ph.D. I loved the thought of being in an environment where my job was to always continue learning. I tell all my classes that there are so many things you can study or focus on within the field of speech-language pathology that it offers something for everyone!

What topics in speech-language pathology have you investigated in the past?
I teach courses on dysphagia, which are swallowing disorders, and also aphasia, which are speech and language problems – often common in people who have had a stroke. Although I’ve conducted research in multiple areas, the bulk of my research has focused on people with a laryngectomy. This stems from my mentor, Dr. Jeff Searl back at BGSU (now at the University of Kansas Medical Center). Dr. Searl gave me an excellent foundation not only in research but also teaching – he taught me all about his research and helped me to develop my line of research which I’ve continued to this day. Research-wise, my focus has primarily been on the impact of alaryngeal speech (speech following a laryngectomy) on the listener. This has included how the listener perceives the speaker– is that person educated? Are they easy to understand? I’ve also studied the impact of visual information on listeners’ perceptions of people who have a laryngectomy, including how intelligible their speech is. There can be a lot of visual distractors with someone who has a laryngectomy – they’ve lost neck tissue, they have a hole in their neck, and often times they have to stick a finger in the hole or put a mechanical device up to their neck in order to talk. This interest in visual distractors led to my research in eye gaze, for which I received a NIH R03 award. Recently, I’ve expanded my research to study other voice disorders, in particular phonotraumatic hoarseness. Along with my colleagues at Johns Hopkins Dept. of Otolaryngology I am studying the cognitive workload, or how hard the listeners’ brain has to work to process the voice signal of someone with a hoarse voice. I’m also looking at how intelligible the voice is and also how well listeners understand the overall message when talking to someone with phonotrauma. In fact, my last study did show that listeners’ brains do have to work harder and that the voices are harder to understand. Since lots of these people with a hoarse voice are teachers, I can easily see this line of research moving into things such as vocal hygiene and even looking at strategies listeners can use to better understand the speaker.

What is your current research focus?
Along with phonotrauma, my research focus has also shifted into obesity and swallowing. My theory is that people who are obese may actually have a different swallow – the timing of all the movements and even the overall strength – all of those things might be affected as a result of the obesity. This also leads right into sleep apnea as lots of people who are obese also have sleep apnea. We have a study going on right now where we are recruiting people who are obese in order to test their tongue strength. Since there isn’t much research out there on tongue strength and obesity, it will be really interesting to see if this population does in fact have weaker tongues. Since lots of people who are obese also have sleep apnea, this might shed some light on why they have apnea and also lead to some insight on how to treat them.

How has receiving an LRP impacted your career?
I initially heard about the program through one of my wife’s colleagues. My wife is also a faculty member in speech-language pathology here at Towson, and her colleague had received an LRP award, so I decided to apply as well! I think it’s the greatest thing on earth – to be able to repay the loans that I had accumulated over the years while continuing the research I love. Speech-language pathologists, especially ones in academia, don’t make a lot of money, and having the LRP award afforded me the extra time to do research rather than taking a PRN (pro re nata, “as the situation arises”) job. Receiving the award has definitely increased my productivity in research and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to stay in a university setting and conduct clinical research.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Dr. EricksonKevin Erickson, M.D., M.S.: Nephrology; Polycystic Kidney Diseases
The LRPs gave me time to devote to
   my research career
Dr. Kevin Erickson is an instructor of medicine in nephrology at Stanford School of Medicine.

Dr. Erickson received his B.A. in economics in 2000 from Amherst College; his M.D. in 2006 from the University of Pennsylvania; and his M.S. in health services research in 2012 from Stanford. Dr. Erickson completed his residency and internship programs at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia and nephrology fellowship at Stanford University. His research interests include how economic incentives and policies affect care of people with kidney disease and studying the cost-effectiveness of diagnostic and treatment strategies in nephrology. In addition, Dr. Erickson recently completed a cost-effectiveness analysis of tolvaptan in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease.

What research have you performed in health care economics?
Throughout medical training, and now as a practicing nephrologist, I frequently see the ways that economics influences health care delivery. After college I worked at the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Senate Joint Economic Committee. As a practicing physician, I feel that I am in a unique position to use my background in economics, policy, and clinical medicine to help shape health care reform and promote the delivery of high-value care. A big area of interest during my postdoctoral work and currently is looking at how reimbursement for nephrologists has affected the delivery of care and health outcomes. In 2004, MEDICARE redesigned how it reimburses nephrologists for the care of dialysis patients to encourage more frequent face-to-face physician visits. In addition to examining the effect of this policy on mortality, hospitalizations and dialysis vascular access, I have tried to determine which patients are seen more frequently by their physician after the policy. For example, I looked at whether physicians see sicker patients more frequently. These issues are important to people of different racial and ethnic groups and underserved populations since the underlying problems of kidney disease and kidney disease progression disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities. But, other factors have influenced this divide as well such as access to care, genetic make-up, and possibly reimbursement reform.

I’ve also conducted several cost-effectiveness analyses trying to identify opportunities to develop high-value health care. In my first study, I built a decision model of chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease and studied the cost effectiveness of statins for primary cardiovascular disease prevention in patients with various stages of chronic kidney disease. I ended up finding that because people with chronic kidney disease are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, low cost generic statins compared favorably with many commonly accepted therapies when given to a wide range of patients with chronic kidney disease. I also conducted a cost effectiveness analysis of tolvaptan for treatment of polycystic kidney disease using a similar model of chronic kidney disease progression. I projected the expected benefit of tolvaptan in preventing end stage renal disease and mortality if the benefits observed in a large clinical trial persisted throughout the patient’s lifetime. In that scenario I found that tolvaptan could have a substantial benefit for patients in preventing end stage renal disease (ESRD) and mortality. I also explored what price tolvaptan would need to be, to be comparable to other commonly accepted therapies in terms of the cost per life year gained.

How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
I graduated from medical school with massive debt. The LRPs gave me time to devote to my research career, which would not have been possible otherwise. I also was able to do more training and build my skills in economics and health policy.

Where do you see your career progression today?
I would like to continue to use my background in economics and clinical medicine to make the world a better place! I recently received a career development award from the NIDDK and I will be spending the next four years studying the effect of competition between dialysis providers on the quality of care delivered and health outcomes. I will also be looking at whether consolidation of the dialysis industry has affected disparities in access to care among underrepresented minority populations. Unique projects like these, which use my skills in both economics and medicine, motivate me to continue to find access routes to provide high-value care for those who need it.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Dr. KisselaBrett Kissela, M.D., M.S. Neurologist
A young researcher would be crazy
    not to try for the LRP!
Dr. Brett Kissela is a Professor of Neurology and Chair of the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Kissela received his B.S. in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology in 1991 (with honors) from Marquette University; his M.D. in Medicine in 1995 from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; and performed his Neurology Residency from 1996 – 1999 at the University of Michigan Medical School, having interned at the Medical College of Wisconsin from 1995 to 1996. Dr. Kissela’s research focuses on neurology and rehabilitation medicine, including the causes, outcomes, and recovery from stroke. He has a special interest in stroke epidemiology, especially the impact of diabetes on stroke, as well as factors that influence stroke outcomes. Dr. Kissela has extensively studied temporal trends in stroke incidence, especially in relation to age. Exit Disclaimer

Can you tell me about your research in stroke prevention, epidemiology, and recovery?
I was always very interested in a career that involved scientific inquiry. I realized during my residency at the University of Michigan and fellowship at the University of Cincinnati that I really was committed to the idea of being an academic neurologist and having the goal of one day being an R01-funded principal investigator. During my first years on faculty I became interested in the impact of diabetes on stroke risk and stroke outcomes including post-stroke quality of life. I was successful at obtaining a K23 and then have been able to obtain R01 funding. Currently, most of my research is founded in epidemiology and studying rates of stroke incidence and mortality, as well as determining factors influencing post-stroke outcomes. I am also focused on clinical trials to improve post-stroke recovery. It is a logical next step that if you have defined factors that are associated with post-stroke outcomes, then you should try to intervene and improve the outcome.

What have you learned through your population-based studies on stroke?
One of the things we learned in my initial K-23 grant is that white matter disease, which is frequently seen on MRI scans of older patients, is associated with worse post-stroke outcomes. Also, we know that greater white matter disease burden is highly correlated with dementia and cognitive dysfunction, so we may be gaining some idea of why functional recovery occurs to a lesser degree when there is a large burden of white matter changes present. Now, we are trying to use our epidemiology study to measure true population-based outcomes.

Another topic of interest is stroke in the young. A few years ago, I noticed during my clinical work that I was seeing younger strokes in the hospital setting. Because we have an epidemiology study that can look at stroke trends over time, we were able to determine that we are indeed seeing more and more strokes in young people over the last 15 years or so. We don’t know why this is with certainty, but think it is likely that the epidemics of diabetes and obesity in young people are causing stroke at an earlier age. This line of research has important public health significance. Hopefully younger people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity will know that they have higher risk for stroke and will work with their physician to reduce that risk.

What advice do you have for others going through the LPR application process?
I would encourage applicants to spell out their short- and long-term career goals. This is important for the reviewer to understand what the applicant aspires to, but also helps the applicant to map out the vision of their future career path, by essentially creating an action plan that can help with short- and long-term goal setting.

How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
A young researcher would be crazy not to try for the LRP! The program was beneficial to me in lessening the financial pressure of loan repayment, which allowed me to focus on my research. Without the award, I would likely have sought a more clinically oriented track. I had $100,000 in debt when I started with my first academic position and it was very difficult to make high payments on that initial debt load. The LRP took away this financial concern and allowed me to build a sound research foundation early on in my academic career.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Tara ChangTara Chang, M.D.: Nephrologist
Receiving the LRP award was a great confidence
   booster for me
Dr. Tara Chang is an instructor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chang received her B.A. in Biochemical Sciences in 1999 from Harvard University; her M.D. in 2003 from the University of Michigan Medical School; and her M.S. in Epidemiology in 2009 from Stanford University. From 2008-2012, Dr. Chang was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University Medical Center and served as a clinical instructor at the university from 2009-2012. Dr. Chang’s research focuses on hypertension and cardiovascular outcomes in chronic kidney disease. She has studied the use of novel oral anticoagulants in patients with end-stage renal disease, as well as acute kidney injury after coronary revascularization. One study of Dr. Chang’s indicates that low blood pressure during dialysis is associated with an increase in dialysis fistula clotting Exit Disclaimer

What are your historical and recent studies in relation to nephrology and kidney disease?
During my first year as a fellow I decided to go down the research path instead of pursuing the career trajectory of many of my colleagues, who decided to focus only on clinical practice. I was interested in extrapolating findings from cardiovascular trials and how those findings could ultimately help individuals with renal and cardiovascular problems. A lot of my work today is population -based. I use large, existing data sets in order to try to tease out the answers to questions, especially in relation to drug effectiveness. Some of my most recent work involves looking at drug effectiveness in someone with CKD, chronic kidney disease, a population usually excluded from most cardiovascular clinical trials. For example, we did an analysis on duration of use of antiplatelet drugs like clopidogrel after having a stent placed in the heart in people on dialysis, and determined that longer duration of use may be of benefit. Although this study was population-based – it was not a clinical trial – the early results were promising. Now I am connecting with other outcomes researchers and looking at hypertension and cardiovascular outcomes in people with CKD. I have a K23 right now which focuses on blood pressure variability in CKD, and I am really excited about continuing my research career, which would have been very difficult without the LRP award.

What was your experience in receiving the LRP award?
I hadn’t done much clinical research as a fellow, but I was fortunate enough to have a great mentor who encouraged me to go for the LRP award. At that time I had applied to 3 or 4 different fellowship grants – and I didn’t get any of them! I doubted my ability to stay in research at that time, until I received the LRP! Receiving the LRP award was a great confidence booster for me in terms of “someone thinks my ideas are good and thinks that I can do this” – I thought at that point “all is not lost!” So that was the start of things – and then from there I finished my clinical year, then completed my Master’s of Science in epidemiology during my second year of my fellowship, and then after that I ended up doing another research fellowship. It was during those subsequent years that I got connected with cardiologists here at Stanford and started collaborating with others at Kaiser – that opened up a lot of opportunities for me! The start of my career in research really was through obtaining the LRP and having that confidence boost.

What advice do you have for others going through the application process?
One big piece of advice – check all of the eligibility requirements! I thought I was ineligible for a renewal until one of my colleagues pointed out that I was still within the cut-off limits. The award really was invaluable to me in terms of creating financial security at a time in which I needed it. And now as an Ambassador to the LRPs I can’t say enough good things about the Programs to my fellows. I have an LRP poster in my front window and one near the fellows’ mailbox. I try to encourage all the eligible fellows at Stanford to apply for the LRP, with the provision that they might not get it on the first try. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
After my first year in research I didn’t get any grants, so receiving the LRP was a real confidence booster. After I finished my fellowship I was at a crossroads – I didn’t know if I could continue, but having the LRP was my safety net! You never want money to be the reason to motivate you to make big career decisions, so I am grateful it didn’t come to that for me. Now I’m able to continue my research – I’ve recently been looking at how blood pressure is affected by dialysis and in relation to the vascular access point used (fistula or graft) – and that’s just one of the many projects that would have been difficult for me to continue working on without the LRP. It has been a game-changer for me, and I am forever grateful to the Programs.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.


Jeffrey J. Kim, D.D.S., Ph.D.Jeffrey J. Kim, D.D.S., Ph.D: Dentist and Stem Cell/Epigenetics Researcher
Always think positive Dr. Jeffrey Kim is a project leader in clinical research at the Dr. Anthony Volpe Research Center- American Dental Association Foundation, working on campus at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Dr. Kim received his B.Sc. in Biology in 2002 from Cal Poly Pomona; his D.D.S. in 2008 from UCLA; and his Ph.D. in 2011 from UCLA in oral biology and medicine. Dr. Kim’s thesis explored how the CDK2AP1 gene affects oral cancer development. Dr. Kim has a special interest in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs), especially in relation to self-renewal and differentiation. Dr. Kim started out with a debt load of around $55,000, but this debt burden has been cut almost in half after his initial two-year award.

What research do you perform?
At my current position I am working on four separate projects that relate to oral conditions and disease. My main project deals with medication-induced xerostomia – the medical term for dryness of mouth. Over 400 prescribed medications can cause xerostomia. I am looking at what causes xerostomia and how it can be prevented. Secondly, I am continuing my postdoc research on fetal alcohol syndrome. There are craniofacial and oral manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome. We are looking at, in a lab, how alcohol affects human embryonic stem cells – the closest thing to an actual fetus. We are looking at genetic and epigenetic changes in these stem cells. My latest research is translating this from an in-vitro to an in-vivo setting. Thirdly, I am looking at dental implants and their care. Unfortunately, it is hard to maintain periodontal health with implants. At ADAF, we recently developed a 3D model standards to measure efficiency of plaque removal in relation to implant surfaces. We are particularly excited about this project because currently there are no effective ways for the patients to remove plaque biofilm from the dental implants. And, finally, I am looking at CDK2AP1 and oral cancer. CDK2AP1 is part of a nucleosome remodeling complex – it remodels the nucleosome, DNA and histone protein cores, – and by doing so it can change the gene expression. Without changing the DNA sequence, this remodeling can alter the gene expression – downregulation or upregulation – and this is the definition of epigenetics. Epigenetics is fascinating because you can turn the gene on or off without changing its sequence. Epigenetic changes are shown in cancer and stem cell development, the basis of my research today.

How did you hear about the LRPs? What was your experience in applying?
I heard about the LRPs from my Ph.D. mentor. I just finished my second year of the award. I didn’t get awarded the first time around – which was both positive and negative. Negative, of course, because I would have liked to have paid off my loans sooner, but positive in the fact that I was able to develop my research better for my second application. In the year that followed my first application I worked on my grant-writing skills and refined my research goals.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are considering applying for the LRP?
I think the first piece of advice I have is to keep applying and always think positive– if it doesn’t work out the first time around it doesn’t mean you won’t be funded at all. It helped me to talk with my mentors and call the program officer – I was able to work on my research deficiencies and build on my past successes and mitigate past failures. You can always make your application better!

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Yvonne EfeberaYvonne Efebera, M.D., M.P.H.: Internal Medicine, Hematology/Oncology, Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation
The LRP has reduced my financial burden Dr. Yvonne Efebera is an assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University.

Dr. Efebera received her B.Sc. in Chemistry in 1994, summa cum laude, from the University of the District of Columbia; her M.D. in 1998 from Pennsylvania State University; and will receive her M.P.H. in December 2014 from the Ohio State University. Dr. Efebera completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Dr. Efebera has received an NIH K12 institutional award through the Ohio State University; received a Boston System Golden Heart Award for outstanding service; and was featured in the “Journey to Innovation”Exit Disclaimer video-taped biographical sketch presented by the Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the treatment of patients with B-cell lymphoid malignancies including multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, and Waldenstrom’s disease. In addition, her interests include blood and marrow transplantation and the prevention of graft versus host disease.

What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining your medical career?
I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and had to take on the challenges of supporting my family at a very young age. My grandmother encouraged me to become a doctor – she died when I was a teen, which was another personal challenge – but she initially sparked my interest in the medical field. I came to the States in 1990 and matriculated as a student at the University of the District of Columbia where I was given the opportunity to be in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, which provided training and support for minority undergraduates interested in academic careers in biomedical or behavioral sciences. The program, which was sponsored by the NIH, paid my tuition during my undergraduate years plus a $600 monthly stipend. This initial NIH funding kick started my career in medicine and was the first of many opportunities I have had through NIH to obtain professional funding. Although paying my student loans is still a challenge, programs like MARC and the Loan Repayment Programs (LRP) have made staying in a career in research more possible.

What research do you perform?
My current research is in multiple myeloma, stem cell transplant, and graft versus host disease. My LRP research focuses on acute graft versus host disease (GVHD) in patients undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. The most common reason for morbidity and mortality in these patients is graft versus host disease. It happens in about 30-70% of these patients despite current prophylactic therapy, and it depends on how matched patients and donors are, the type of conditioning regimen, whether or not the donor is related or unrelated, and some other factors. We are currently looking at early markers such as MicroRNA-155 and 29a that may help us predict which patients will develop acute GVHD after allogeneic stem cell transplant before they develop it, so that early intervention can be done to reduce the severity and intensity of GVHD. I am also working on a phase II study using a novel therapy for acute GVHD.

How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
The LRP, of course, has reduced my financial burden. But the LRP has also motivated me to be more productive because I can apply each year as long as I have qualifying debt. I am able to publish clinical trials research as part of my obligation – and because of this motivation to keep publishing and advancing my goals, I am up for promotion a year early. I am also more assertive in working with the research coordinators and have enrolled more patients in a short amount of time. The LRP has been a great motivator for me and I am so grateful to the Program.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Stephen WiviottStephen Wiviott, M.D.: Cardiologist
I'm really grateful for this program Dr. Stephen Wiviott is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and is a Senior Investigator with the TIMI Study Group in the Cardiovascular Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Dr. Wiviott received his B.A. in Mathematics in 1990, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.D. with Honors in a Special Field in 1996 from Harvard Medical School. Dr. Wiviott's research focuses on cardiology and therapies to treat and prevent myocardial infarction.

How has your career evolved?
When I made an initial application to the LRPs, I was a clinical research fellow ' I had completed my clinical training in cardiology and was beginning my research training as a fellow at the Brigham and Women's Hospital with the TIMI Study Group. At that time we were in the very early stages of the planning of a clinical trial called the TRITON-TIMI 38 study. We had finished a Phase 2, dose-finding study of a novel anti-platelet agent and were planning Phase 3 to see if the drug was effective for people with coronary artery disease. My LRP application described the initial planning phases of this study and my expectation of being a lead investigator. Over the period of the next five or six years, we completed the trial and demonstrated the superiority of this novel strategy for patients with acute coronary syndrome. That study became the basis for my clinical research and publications in this area during my fellowship and early faculty years. My biggest success with the study is that the new thienopyridine, a drug called prasugrel, is now prescribed to patients under my care for the reduction of thrombotic cardiovascular events.

What advice do you have for other researchers considering the LRPs?
In addition to being a recipient of an LRP award, I've had the opportunity to mentor several trainees who have also received the award. I would suggest to trainees that they submit their application as early as possible in their careers and not to give up on the process; sometimes it may take more than one cycle to be funded. Also, part of the process of applying for an LRP award requires thinking about your research in different ways and focusing on one or two specific research questions, so the process may help structure the early part of an applicant's research training.

How has receiving an LRP award impacted your career?
I'm really very grateful for this program. When I applied to the LRP initially, I had a very large medical school debt burden. When I came out of the program, I was able to pay off that debt completely within a year or so and launch my career without the weight of a large medical school debt. Through the LRP, I have been afforded freedom ' not only during my fellowship but thereafter ' to make decisions that are in the best interest of pursing a clinical research career.

To learn more about our Clinical Research LRP, please click here.

Amanda Botticello, Ph.D., M.P.H.: Research ScientistAmanda Botticello, Ph.D., M.P.H.: Research Scientist
Having an LRP award alleviates
the pressure through assistance
Dr. 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 outcomesExit Disclaimer 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 Health Disparities Research LRP, please click here.

Nan Hatch, D.M.D., Ph.D.: Craniofacial ResearcherNan Hatch, D.M.D., Ph.D.: Craniofacial Researcher
I cannot say enough good things about the    program Dr. 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 hereExit Disclaimer.

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 Pediatric Research LRP, please click here.

Ronald L. Hickman, Jr., Ph.D., R.N., ACNP-BC: Nurse Scientist and PractitionerRonald L. Hickman, Jr., Ph.D., R.N., ACNP-BC: Nurse Scientist and Practitioner
The LRPs help me to be extremely completive in my careerDr. 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 hereExit Disclaimer.

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 Clinical 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 PopulationsRobert Lucero, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.: Using Consumer Health Information Technology to Improve Health Outcomes of Vulnerable and Underserved Populations
LRP has allowed me to set the ground work to                         propel my career Dr. 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?

  1. Make sure you are in a good environment rich with research resources both structural and human resources.
  2. A good mentor can lead you in the right direction.
  3. Play to your strengths when describing your research ideas.
  4. Think about your science and where you want it to go.
  5. 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 Clinical 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 Exit Disclaimer 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

  1. Start paperwork as early as possible.
  2. Talk with new institution about the items that will need to transfer.
  3. Ask whether you can receive advance funding for all aspects of the grant.
  4. Be clear about the details and ensure you can hit the ground running.
  5. Really get to know your NIH program officer and grants management specialist and keep them posted every step of the way.
For additional advice on successfully changing institutions, listen to the All About Grants podcast 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.Exit Disclaimer

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 Exit Disclaimer 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

  1. Sugar makes kids hyper.
  2. Children who are in daycare tend to be sicker than others.
  3. You need to drink 8 glasses of water per day.
  4. Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight.
  5. 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?
  1. Give yourself at least three months to prepare and know all of the associated deadlines. This includes deadlines set by your institution.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:
  1. 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.
  2. Establish a mentoring group. Pick a few key trusted colleagues to review your specific aims and refine your research approach.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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: May 28, 2015

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