Building Careers in Women's Health

March 9, 2003

Heather Heilman

Building careers in women's health by Heather Heilman Men and women are different, in more than just the obvious ways. "There's a lot of evidence coming up now that some of the traditional treatments that we've used for years don't work as effectively in women as they do in men," said Jeanette Magnus, director of the Tulane-Xavier National Center of Excellence in Women's Health.

There's long been a shortage of clinical research on women, particularly when it comes to conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease that affect both sexes but may work differently in women. The National Institutes of Health has made it a priority to address this shortfall.

A few years ago it began awarding mentoring grants called Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health, intended to help develop the careers of junior researchers committed to working in women's health. The first round of funding was made in 1999, when Magnus was new to Tulane and had just taken over the reins at the women's center.

"We decided not to go for the first round, but I started to think about how to draw on Tulane's strengths so we would really stand out in the second round."

Tulane has an established strength in research focused on cardiovascular disease and its risk factors and Tulane is in Louisiana, where women are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease early in life. It seemed like the right place to address the gender disparity in research. Through Magnus' successful proposal, Tulane became one of 12 institutions to receive funding in the second round, which was awarded last year.

Magnus and Paul Whelton, senior vice president for health sciences, are principal investigators for the grant, which will be funded for five years. It will support eight young researchers for two years each, providing them with mentors and protected time for research. Their projects must involve human subjects and address some aspect of women's cardiovascular health.

In the past, young researchers often informally sought out a mentor to help them get started in research. Today, it's more crucial than ever to have a mentor, but often harder to find one because of the many things competing for the time and attention of established researchers. So career-development grants function as a kind of matchmaker. Magnus has cultivated a pool of mentorsestablished researchers who are willing to help out a young scholar in their field.

The junior researchers will get assistance in developing a research program and a proposal for independent funding from the National Institutes of Health so they can continue their research on their own. The first two re-searchers, who have not yet been chosen, will begin their projects this spring. They can come from any department in the health sciences center. One space is reserved for a junior faculty member from Xavier's College of Pharmacy.

"The researchers can be male or female, but they have to be committed to a career in women's health," said Magnus. "We'll follow them for the next 10 years to see how well they do. We'll look at things like how much they publish, whether or not they make tenure, and where they go if they leave Tulane."

The grant will have as large an impact on the women's center as it will have on the careers of the sponsored scientists. "It will help us build our re-search and in a way puts Tulane on the map when it comes to women's health research," Magnus said.

Heather Heilman can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000