Miller School launches heart health initiative in the US Virgin Islands

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Dr. Sonjia Kenya of the Miller School speaks from the stage at a press conference

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is partnering with the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Health on a program that trains USVI natives in cardiovascular research.

  • The USVI is suffering from a severe healthcare workforce shortage, with 40% of healthcare positions unfilled.
  • The Cardiovascular Research Empowerment Workforce (CREW) initiative is a summer fellowship program for scholars who wish to return to the USVI as health care workers.

Black people make up nearly three-quarters of the population of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Its adverse cardiovascular outcomes are among the worst in the United States.

With over 40% of health care positions unfilled and most providers from outside the USVI, culturally appropriate health care is a challenge.

To address these issues, public health experts from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, along with Miller School alumni and the USVI Department of Health, have created the Cardiovascular Research Empowerment Workforce (CREW) initiative.

Dr. Sonjia Kenya Of The Miller School Speaks From The Stage At A Press Conference

“This grant supports a summer fellowship to train diverse scholars in cardiovascular research and integrate them into the USVI health department, so they can develop a strong connection with the USVI health care infrastructure and engage in it after college. Want to get back to work.” Sonjia Kenyon, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and public health at the Miller School and the crew’s principal investigator.

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Dr. Kenya is launching the program with Miller School alumnus Tai Hunte-Caesar, MD, MSPH, chief medical officer, USVI Department of Health and founding dean of the Donald Sussman School of Medicine at the University of the Virgin Islands.

USVI An important time for heart health

Dr. Kenya and Dr. Hunte-Caesar unveiled the crew during a joint press conference at Government House in St. Thomas on January 29. Also speaking at the press conference were USVI Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach, Esq., USVI Health Commissioner Justa Encarnación and University of the Virgin Islands President Dr. David Hall.

“Today’s announcement of our partnership with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine could not come at a more important time,” said Commissioner Encarnación. “Heart disease remains the number one cause of death and we have to find a way to tackle it. The USVI-UM partnership is an important step in this effort. Our partnership is about focusing on the health of our region. It’s about health equity and access to home care. “And this is the beginning of rebuilding a responsive and resilient healthcare workforce.”

From Left, Dr. Janice Valmond, Deputy Commissioner For Health Promotion And Disease Prevention, Vi Health Department;  Dr. Sonjia Kenya David Hall, Lieutenant Colonel.  Governor Tregenza A.  Roach, Esq., Usvi Health Commissioner Fair Avatar;  Dr. Tai Hunte-Cesar Olwein Carrasquillo.
From left: Dr. Janice Valmond, Deputy Commissioner for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, USVI Department of Health; Dr. A.S. Sonjia Kenya; Dr. A.S. David Hall; Lieutenant Colonel Governor Tregenza A. Roach, Esq.; USVI Health Commissioner Fair Avatar; Dr. A.S. Dr. Tai Hunte-Cesar Olwein Carrasquillo.

Funded by a five-year, $154,000 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, CREW recruits undergraduate students from the USVI to participate in eight weeks of extensive research training to prepare and Can be inspired. Cardiovascular medicine. The first cohort of students will start in June 2024.

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Henry R. Ford said, “This collaboration is a significant moment that combines the expertise of our Miller School public health experts with the outstanding achievements of a distinguished alumnus who has used his medical school education to make significant contributions to his home field. Have done.” MD, MHA, Dean and Chief Academic Officer of the Miller School. “I look forward to seeing the success of the program in training a new generation of culturally competent physicians and scientists who are prepared to tackle important public health challenges.”

Partnering with the University of the Virgin Islands, a historically black university, the initiative will enroll 10 students each summer for the next five years.

Partnership exemplifies equitable health care approach

“This partnership is consistent with the overall goals of the university that we have been seeing for a long time, and I would argue that this is a step in that direction,” Dr. Hall said. And service.

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From Left, Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar, Dr. Sonjia Kenya David Hall
Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar (left, with Dr. David Hall and Dr. Sonjia Kenyon) hopes the CREW program will help fill the U.S. Virgin Islands’ primary care and specialty care physician shortage.

He emphasized the collaborative nature of the project and expressed confidence that the partnership will advance the university in achieving its goals.

The crew will teach students heart health disparity research skills under the mentorship of faculty and staff from the Miller School and the USVI Health Department.

“Crew speaks to the long-established legacy of the University of Miami as an important hemispheric institution,” said Yiannis Chatzizis, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Miller School. “Creating partnerships that support and strengthen the health infrastructure of our neighbors in the Caribbean is a win-win for everyone.”

Dr. Kenyon conceptualized the program “with the goal of creating more physician-scientists like Dr. Hunte-Caesar, a USVI native who worked with Dr. Kenyon while pursuing her master’s degree in public health at the Miller School Dr. Hunte-Caesar later returned to the USVI.

“When I heard that we could get a grant that would train minorities to pursue careers in medicine and research, I knew it was an amazing opportunity,” said Dr. Hunte-Caesar. “We have a limited number of both primary care physicians and specialty care physicians who can provide services within the area. This results in too much care being provided in the emergency room and poor health care outcomes.

Students will complete a two-week research boot camp at the Miller School, UHealth-University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System before a six-week program at USVI.

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