The genetics of kidney disease and the health of immigrants and Latin America are the topics of interest for the UNC School of Medicine’s latest additions to its Simmons Scholars Career Development Program.
While those topics seem disparate, Simmons Scholars Career Development Program associate director, Ian B.K. Martin, MD, MBA, said providing support for faculty members to explore their diverse academic interests is the very goal of the program, which dates back to 1994 and has already supported 33 scholars.
“Like racial and ethnic diversity, seeking intellectual diversity is important for the Simmons Scholars Career Development Program and the entire School of Medicine,” said Martin. “This diversity contributes to an enriched educational and professional environment, allowing us to produce culturally competent physicians who can better care for our diverse patient population.”
The program’s two new scholars are Keisha Gibson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, a researcher and clinician in the field of pediatric nephrology, and Raul Necochea, PhD, assistant professor of social medicine, a historian with a particular interest in Latin America.
The two latest additions to the Simmons Scholars program also hail from very different parts of the world, and have a personal passion for their research.
Both Gibson and Necochea said they are grateful for the opportunity to join the growing community of Simmons Scholars and for support they say will help further their research and career goals.
“Anytime there is an opportunity to protect your time and focus on academic endeavors, it’s huge,” Gibson said.
“My field is very book-based,” he said. “Obviously a book takes a long time to research and write and so I’m thankful for the opportunity to focus on a few projects I’m very excited about.”
Keisha Gibson has always known she wanted to study and treat kidney diseases. As a child growing up in North Carolina, she witnessed family members affected by what she called the “Southern cocktail” of obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Kidney disease often comes along with those conditions.
“Growing up, I saw so many people affected by kidney disease and on dialysis,” she said. “I wanted to know how I could help. In my medical career, I really haven’t wavered from that interest. I’m on a mission.”
A self-described, “cog in many wheels,” Gibson has worked on community education and outreach through a health and wellness ministry at a Durham church, she is an active clinician, and is an investigator on multiple ongoing clinical trials.
“My primary interest is in glomerular diseases that affect the filters of the kidneys,” Gibson said. “In the past few years, we’ve had a lot of exciting developments in understanding genetic predisposition to end-stage kidney disease particularly in individuals of African ancestry.”
Gibson said she will use the support of the Simmons Scholars Program to continue these research efforts.
“The next step will be trying to understand how these risk alleles lead to kidney disease and if this biology will lead to something we can target with therapeutics.”
An alumna of UNC’s Medical Education Development (MED) program, Gibson also tries to make as much time as she can to mentor medical students.
“It’s so important to reach back and help students,” she said. “The time commitment can be minimal, but when you’re so stretched, finding that hour can be difficult.”
A historical view
Raul Necochea knows that he stands out amongst the other Simmons Scholars. The sole humanities scholar, Necochea nonetheless looks forward to learning from fellow program members.
“It’s always interesting to look at problems from different angles,” he said. “So, I’m looking forward to having productive conversations about how people in other disciplines think.”
That sort of curiosity has guided his career as a historian interested in the history of medicine and the intersection of the developed and developing world.
A native of Peru, Necochea said he remains devoted to being “not only a historian of Latin America, but a historian from Latin America.
His most recent work, “A History of Family Planning in Twentieth Century Peru” was released in the fall of 2014 and he is now finalizing its Spanish translation.
“When we are writing about problems in Latin America – or Africa, or Asia – if we are not able to make our work available and useful to audiences in those places then we aren’t doing the whole job,” he said.
He sees this as another disparity that the Simmons program aims to address.
“This program shows the commitment of our community to addressing inequalities,” he said. “In my case, one of those inequalities is the difference in the reach of our work between North American audiences and audiences in the rest of the world.”
Necochea said that he travels as much as he can to Latin America to speak and will do so soon when the Spanish translation of his book is complete.
He said he is also looking forward to beginning work on a project studying the health care services provided to immigrants through consulates in the United States.
- About the Simmons Scholar Program
The Simmons Scholar Career Development Program, which was founded in 1994 by former Dean Michael Simmons, MD, provides three to five years of salary support, structured mentorship, and career and leadership development opportunities. The program is available to all SOM faculty members from a population underrepresented in the medical field relative to the general population.
Since the program launched in 1994, 33 faculty members have been named Scholars. The program currently hosts eight faculty Scholars. Faculty members who meet the eligibility requirements may be nominated by their department chair. To make a nomination, please contact program coordinator Becky Medford.