March 15, 2012

Wilkins named to direct Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., MSCI

Wilkins named to direct Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Consuelo H. Wilkins, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, Psychiatry and Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, has been named the new executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance. She will assume the role on June 1.

Consuelo Wilkins, M.D.

Consuelo Wilkins, M.D.

Wilkins, who succeeds the retiring Clifton Meador, M.D., proved to have exactly what the Alliance was looking for in its next leader – experience and demonstrated success in community engaged research.

 As the Alliance welcomes a new leader, it will also usher in the next phase of the nearly 13-year-old partnership. With educational functions and clinical collaborations well established, the flourishing research engine of the Alliance will take center stage.

Wilkins, director of the Institute for Public Health’s Center for Community Health and Partnerships at Washington University and co-director of the Center for Community Engaged Research in the Institute of Clinical and Translational Science (CTSA), is prepared to transition the organization to a primarily research-focused program.

“We had expectations that the Alliance would focus more on research, especially community-based research while continuing to support its educational mission,” said Gordon Bernard, M.D., Vanderbilt's associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Clinical Sciences. “Our recruitment focused on someone with ambitions in the community research arena.

“With the change in the scope of the Alliance, this new leadership will offer new opportunities to more rapidly and solidly develop programs that are part of the new design. Consuelo brings extraordinary experience and strengths to the next phase of the Alliance.”

Wilkins will be tasked with managing a $1.5 million budget, assisting both institutions in identifying and recruiting new faculty as well as assisting current faculty in their research development.

“Consuelo Wilkins is an outstanding choice to lead the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance,” said Charles Mouton, M.D., M.S., dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice president for Health Affairs at Meharry.

“She brings a strong foundation as an academician and a wealth of experience leading cutting-edge programs from her previous position at Washington University. There is not a better person to continue the wonderful collaborations begun in the first decade of the Alliance.”

With offices on both campuses, she will have a faculty appointment at Vanderbilt as associate professor of Medicine within the Institute for Medicine and Public Health under Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH, assistant vice chancellor for Public Health and associate dean for Population Health Sciences. She will also hold an appointment as an associate professor of Medicine at Meharry.

“The change within the Alliance to become more focused on community engagement and community-engaged research is really essential to addressing health disparities locally and nationally,” said Wilkins. “My goal for the Alliance is to provide both the faculty at Meharry and Vanderbilt as well as community organizations with the tools necessary to cultivate partnerships and involve the community more substantively in the research process.”

Under the traditional model for research, universities and investigators come up with research questions and ideas that are then taken out into the community for support and recruitment. Oftentimes research initiatives have fallen flat because of the lack of community endorsement, acceptance or understanding.

“Community engagement involves the community more substantially in research, allowing for input sooner rather than later in the research process,” said Wilkins. “I am excited to be able to do this in an environment where we have two highly esteemed institutions that value and understand this concept.”

Wilkins graduated with a B.S. in Microbiology from Howard University School of Arts and Science. She later earned her medical degree from Howard’s School of Medicine in 1996, completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University and did her fellowship in Geriatric Medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University School of Medicine. In 2002 she received her M.S. in clinical Investigation from Washington University School of Medicine.

She holds several national and international appointments, including serving on the Health Equity Council for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as a member of the Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Action Institute with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a great opportunity for me, to build upon the foundation that Dr. Clifton Meador created. He has done an incredible job of connecting and bridging people and institutions throughout Nashville and beyond,” said Wilkins of her predecessor. “To follow in his footsteps and continue his work of addressing health disparities – something that was important to him throughout his career – is an honor.”

Wilkins, a trained geriatrician, will also continue her research aimed at identifying and addressing risk factors for cognitive impairment in older adults.

“Falls and a decrease in physical activity are huge contributors in declines in the overall health status of older adults and in the decrease in overall quality of life,” she said. “There is also an increase in health care costs as this population loses independence and becomes less functional and less socially interactive, which can lead to depression and hospitalization.”

“A lot of older adults assume as they get older that their health is supposed to decline,” Wilkins said. “The message is – we have evidence-based assessments we can do in the community and we can identify risks factors for frailty and decreased activity and implement interventions to allow them to maintain function and stay independent.”