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Fulbright fellow wins NIH research award for 2019-20

The National Institutes of Health has selected one of Lipscomb's Fulbright fellows to carry out research this year while also learning about health disparities

Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078  | 

Courtney "Coco" Stewart

Courtney “Coco” Stewart (’17), has been selected by the National Institutes of Health to participate in the NIH Academy Enrichment Program.

One of Lipscomb University’s Fulbright fellows, Courtney “Coco” Stewart (’17), has been selected by the National Institutes of Health to participate in the NIH Academy Enrichment Program, a program for recent college graduates to perform world-class research at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and learn about health disparities.

Stewart, a Spanish and Bible graduate from Houston, spent her 2017-18 Fulbright placement teaching English and creating a healthy living curriculum for a school in the small town of Haro, in La Rioja, Spain. Her experiences there galvanized her decision to switch gears and pursue medical school.

Her one-year placement with the NIH, a postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award, provides recent college graduates who are planning to apply to graduate or professional school an opportunity to spend one or two years performing full-time research at the NIH. Participants in this program work side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research.

She will begin her work at the NIH in September in the lab of Vence Bonham studying health disparities regarding sickle cell disease. Stewart will be exploring the ethical distribution of newly acquired genomic data and physicians' responses to patients based on socioeconomic and ethnic status.

During her undergraduate years, Stewart studied abroad in Lipscomb’s program in Santiago, Chile, and has served on three Lipscomb mission teams to Guatemala, including medical mission trips. 

Her majors, Spanish and theology, “lend themselves to an interest in medicine,” Stewart said, “because I deeply care about people, and I am fascinated by the important relationship between patients and their provider. Medical school is the ideal next step for me.”

On her mission trips in Guatemala, Stewart often acted as an interpreter in the medical clinics. She was struck by the even more powerful impact she could have on people as a physician who speaks the local language.

“I realized the opportunity to serve afforded to physicians because of their skill set. I saw patients who formed a bond of trust with the physicians in seconds, and that was amazing to me,” she said. “As a physician, I’ll have the opportunity to form that trust without an interpreter, and part of that is thanks to the language exposure from my Fulbright experience.”

Upon returning from Spain, Stewart has spent the past year taking medical school prerequisite courses at Lipscomb and continuing to collect experiences in the medical field: acting as an interpreter at Nashville’s Siloam Health Clinic, shadowing an emergency room physician at Vanderbilt Medical Center and attending seminars on bioethics held at Vanderbilt.

Stewart’s position at the NIH is part of the NIH Academy Enrichment Program, which offers competitive funding to trainees interested in learning about health disparities while performing research. The NIH broadly defines health disparities research as studies that focus health conditions that are unique to, more serious or more prevalent in socioeconomically disadvantaged subpopulations and medically underserved, rural and urban communities.

The NEAP program involves participants in a customized curriculum that will use journal clubs, case studies and group activities to explore the relationship between science and society in evening roundtables. Participants examine the role of science, policy and community engagement in the elimination of health disparities.

They also participate in a leadership development program focused on self-exploration, building resiliency, understanding conflict, finding mentors and understanding emotional intelligence.

Stewart is one of 12 Fulbright fellows awarded to Lipscomb students and alumni in the past 13 years.