PLUS co-directors: Gustavo Arrizabalaga, PhD, and Danielle Henderson, PhD
The Program to Launch Underrepresented in Medicine Success (PLUS) at Indiana University School of Medicine is designed to support the career development of faculty who come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in academic medicine (URiM). Launched in 2018, PLUS helps promote and retain high-talent faculty from minoritized and historically marginalized backgrounds, who have the expertise and skills to become the next generation of leaders in academic medicine and health research.
Academic medicine faces ongoing challenges in strategically aligning culturally relevant and sustainable pathways for URiM faculty recruitment, retention and leadership advancement. A lack of faculty representation also has significant implications for representational diversity at the trainee level including, but not limited to, lower enrollments amongst potential trainees from similar backgrounds. This makes programs such as PLUS vital.
“Many facets say, ‘You can’t achieve what you can’t see,’ begging the importance of a diverse representation. Through programs such as PLUS, IU School of Medicine is dedicated to systemically focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, providing high-talent, faculty from diverse backgrounds with the support to be the representation for future learners,” emphasizes Sydney Rucker, PhD, director of diversity initiatives.
PLUS is a two-year cohort program structured around two pillars–leadership and scholarship. During the program, PLUS scholars participate in connection events, career coaching, writing seminars and wellness programming designed to meet the unique personal, professional and institutional needs of faculty from minoritized backgrounds.
The success of the PLUS program is assessed by long-term measures, such as the rates of promotion and the time to promotion of PLUS scholars and alumni, as well as traditional scholarly products like publications, grants, presentations, awards, honors and invited speakerships.
An emerging leader, Danielle Henderson, PhD, assistant dean for diversity affairs and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, successfully completed the PLUS program in 2020. She first came to IU School of Medicine in 2016 to complete her pre-doctoral internship in psychology and was subsequently presented with the opportunity to participate in a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical health psychology with an emphasis in cardiac-pulmonary behavioral medicine.
She joined the IU School of Medicine faculty in 2018 and has enjoyed working collaboratively with colleagues who are leaders in their fields, collaborating to advance IU School of Medicine’s tripartite mission.
“The PLUS program prepared me to navigate leading, following and encouraging others to shine in their strengths and passions,” shared Henderson.
She wanted to become a PLUS scholar because she was drawn to the opportunity to meet faculty members and leaders from URiM populations. She was also excited about building community. The program administrators remain a point of contact for the scholars, supporting them on their career journeys. Henderson gained a strong support system committed to the scholar’s success.
Now wanting to mentor others, Henderson will be stepping into the role of co-director of PLUS joining Gustavo Arrizabalaga, PhD, in his current efforts of continuing to carry out the vision and success of the program.
Arrizabalaga is the assistant dean for diversity affairs, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, engaged in biomedical research, and current director of PLUS. He came to IU School of Medicine in 2012 as an associate professor, attracted by the collaborative culture and research opportunities. Training, teaching and mentoring graduate students brings him joy. He has been teaching for 20 years and has focused a great part of his career on mentoring junior faculty.
Drawing from his own early career trial and error, Arrizabalaga works with the National Research Mentoring Network to coach early-stage faculty from across the nation on how to write their first research grants. His mentorship and leadership experiences have prepared him to contribute to the PLUS program.
“I particularly enjoy mentoring those who, like myself, are from groups underrepresented in biomedical research and in academic medicine,” Arrizabalaga said. “When I started my academic career as an assistant professor, I wasted a lot of time and resources learning through trial and error on my own. I am driven to mentor others by the belief that all of the things that I learned are teachable.”
The new co-directors hope to continue the growth of the PLUS program by leveraging their expertise in collaborative work, leadership and networking. Welcoming its fifth cohort in 2022, the PLUS program continues to provide strategic support for faculty development, retention and leadership development. They look forward to incorporating education focused on grant writing and research development and hope to strengthen confidence and passions in scholars. They plan to continue supporting professional development throughout all stages of scholars’ careers.
“I am excited to see how far they will take the program and advance IU School of Medicine,” said Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds, MD, associate dean for health equity research and founder of PLUS.
She considers it an honor to have led four cohorts of PLUS scholars who went on to advance their careers in academic medicine. She is confident Henderson and Arrizabalaga will continue promoting equity and opportunity through PLUS.