Ekenga Uses Epidemiology to Address Disparities in Physician Research

Diversity; Faculty; Public Health; Research

Epidemiology is typically a field that studies disease.  Now, a Brown School epidemiologist is using her expertise in epi and statistics to tackle a different problem: the underrepresentation of women and minority physicians in research careers.

Christine Ekenga, assistant professor, is a co-investigator on a $1.7 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to look into the participation of physician-scientists from historically underrepresented groups in federally funded research. The study will be led by Donna B. Jeffe, professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Ekenga is an epidemiologist who teaches in the Masters of Public Health Program.  Her expertise will be used on the project to look at research outcomes from a variety of data, such as NIH and the American Medical Association.

“Our study will be the first to merge this data to help us better think about gender, racial and ethnic disparities in research,” she said.  “It will have implications for practice as well.”

Ekenga will analyze the data to identify barriers to and facilitators of diversity in the physician-scientist workforce. The goal is to promote the participation of researchers from historically underrepresented groups in federally funded research. 

“When you have a diverse research workforce, you can expand your research questions and address health disparities,” she said.

The study dovetails with Ekenga’s research focus on the epidemiology of chronic diseases and her interest in assessment methods for research and clinical practice. Her current work includes examining how lifestyle, environmental and occupational factors interact to influence health and well-being.

Ekenga is a member of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center and a faculty scholar in the Institute for Public Health at Washington University. Prior to joining Washington University, she completed National Institute of Health postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Siteman Cancer Center.