HELM fellowship provides faculty & postdocs career development aimed at reducing health disparities

The Health Equity Leadership & Mentoring (HELM) program, led by Sue Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, a professor in the Department of Medicine, and coordinated by Mikow Hang, supports and promotes a diverse faculty workforce at the University of Minnesota by enhancing the academic excellence and leadership capacity of junior faculty and postdoctoral trainees from backgrounds underrepresented in academia and/or those doing health disparities or health equity-related research. 

With consistent support from the Office of Faculty Affairs at the U of M Medical School, HELM offers focused career mentoring with a senior faculty member, access to nationally recognized scholars and leaders in health equity and diversity and monthly seminars devoted to professional development as well as topics that specifically connect to many of the unique challenges faced by fellows, owing to their backgrounds and research focus.

Using a culturally responsive model of mentoring and leadership development, HELM has supported over 85 fellows, to date, from across the University of Minnesota, a majority of whom are from racial/ethnic minority groups and/or NIH-designated health disparity populations. 

Hear from Gabriela Bustamante, PhD, MPH, and Abbie Begnaud, MD, about their experience as HELM fellows:

Gabriela Bustamante, PhD, MPH, HELM Fellow

Gabriela Bustamante

When I began my postdoctoral fellowship in August 2019, I was faced with the challenge of moving from my previous focus on cardiovascular disease to a whole new field of cancer disparities. I struggled at first to become an independent investigator after being a student for the past few years. 

The HELM fellowship was absolutely critical in shaping these early steps of my independent career. The topics of the seminars and the invited speakers were so carefully selected that I not only gained key knowledge about health equity research, but I also recognized my own strengths and resources moving forward in my career. For example, during Dr. Sonya Brady’s talk on “Health Equity Framework,” I learned how to build a conceptual framework to support research and action that advances health equity. Meanwhile, during Michelle Lamere’s “Mapping Your Developmental Network,” I discovered that I have an incredibly supportive network to rely on as I advance my career. 

Besides these seminars, what was most meaningful to me about this fellowship were the group discussions and relationships that I built with the other fellows and the leadership. In this group of phenomenal fellows from underrepresented identities, we all found a safe space to talk about our doubts, our challenges and our views. The more we shared, the stronger we grew. 

Abbie Begnaud, MD, HELM Fellow

Image of Dr. Abbie Begnaud

I learned about the HELM program through my division director, and when I investigated further, saw that some of my most respected research collaborators were also HELM fellows. My research interest in health equity primarily motivated me to apply myself. 

The HELM program was a wonderfully supportive and enlightening experience, with an opportunity to really get to know other researchers and colleagues. I would characterize it as both faculty development and a support system. Many HELM fellows come to academia without an understanding of how to “play the game,” and this was a safe space to demystify unwritten rules and unspoken expectations. In addition, we acquired tools and skills to follow these rules and meet these expectations. 

HELM fellows have different backgrounds and research interests – the program is applicable to any academic area. My only regret about the HELM program? That I spent several years stumbling professionally before learning about it and applying.