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National Clinician Scholars Program: Preparing Nurse and Physician Researchers to Solve Pressing Health Problems

National Clinician Scholars Program
Current nurse UCLA National Clinician Scholars (seated from left); Hafifa Shabaik, Ph.D., MSN, RN, Adrienne Martinez, Ph.D., MSN, RN, PHN, Patricia Soderlund, MSN, PhD.  Standing: Dr. MarySue Heilemann, Associate Director - Nursing



When she was working towards her Ph.D. at the UCLA School of Nursing, Dr. Maria Yefimova knew she wanted to apply a systemic approach to geriatric care – one that addressed improving care through evidence and research. So when she learned about the National Clinician Scholars Program (NCSP), she knew the program could help her achieve her goals.


“I was interested in it because it offered an opportunity to work collaboratively with the larger community, not just with nurses but also physicians, health economists, all sorts of people,” she says. “I realized in order to change care for older patients, we have to look at not just clinical care but a range of factors such as reimbursement – who pays for it, who receives it and who makes decisions.”


A two-year postdoctoral program, the NCSP trains nurses and physicians to pursue clinical research – in partnership with community or government entities – designed to directly improve health and health care. The interprofessional, multidisciplinary program, launched in 2016, drew inspiration from the legacy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program. Participants learn research and leadership skills they need to design, implement and evaluate research addressing pressing health problems and how to make a difference related to policy. These skills are meant to not only serve them in completing an NCSP research project, but in whatever career they may pursue.


“This is not a traditional postdoctoral  program,” said Linda Sarna, dean of the UCLA School of Nursing and founding member of the program. “It is a program with passion and purpose. These are clinician scholars who are talented scientists who want to look at health care and health services in a different way.”


“Our focus is on the delivery of services,” adds NCSP Associate Director Dr. MarySue Heilemann. “Specifically, we’re looking at health disparities and systems-level issues that drive these disparities and how to create new models of care that promote health equity.”


At UCLA, along with the David Geffen School of Medicine and the School of Nursing, partnerships have included the Fielding School of Public Health, Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services, Public Health and Mental Health, the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Charles R. Drew University, Healthy African American Families, Venice Family Clinic, Behavioral Health Services, MLK Community Hospital and the Los Angeles Unified School District.


For Yefimova, NCSP “really showed me that nurses are and can be in places where they weren’t necessarily working previously, or weren’t seen as much previously,” she says.


During the program she was a Veteran’s Administration fellow working with the National Home Health Program to look at how patients with heart disease made use of technology to monitor their chronic health conditions.


“One of the strongest skills I learned was the idea of community-based participatory research and how to interact with large, complex systems,” she adds.  “(This included) engaging stakeholders, leading diverse meetings, identifying priorities, and reporting back to the community the findings – research not in an ivory tower but as part of community building.”


The NCSP originated with the Schools of Nursing and Medicine at UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and Yale. Since then, Duke and UC San Francisco have come on board. Participants become part of a national network of scholars and alumni with whom they can collaborate and consult. Current and alumni participants -- including those from the Robert Wood Johnson program -- also gather annually at a national meeting.


Heilemann notes that NCSP scholars have moved on to positions in academia, government, hospital leadership and private industry.


Yefimova is among the handful of nurse researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.  In addition to serving as Research Nurse Scientist at Stanford Care, she is part of the newly established Elizabeth Dole Center of Excellence for Veteran Caregiver Research at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, looking at improving care for older veterans and their caregivers, as well as the use of new technology for improving their living situations.

NCSP “really changed my life,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I didn’t go through it. It’s a lot of hard work but the reward is a hundred-fold.”