For Immediate Release: August 4, 2023; Houston, TX
Two years ago, when HEALTH Research Institute’s Hinal Patel was first asked to join the HEALTH–FAST initiative, it was a meaningful opportunity that she knew she had to embrace. For Patel, the challenge of training doctoral scholars, postdoctoral fellows, and early-stage investigators to become future scientists was an endeavor she deeply wanted to pursue.
“I love the team here. We work in a collaborative and multicultural environment,” Patel said. “Our team leadership inspires trust and autonomy. I serve as the project manager for the HEALTH–FAST project, and I feel so close to it. Every year, we collaborate with a new cadre of scholars, post-doctoral fellows and explore how they bring diversity and new perspectives.”
Patel’s tenacity and vision with the HEALTH–FAST project has been notably recognized, and now she is the distinguished recipient of the DOR Staff Excellence Award.
“Working with HRI—personally and professionally—it's been a valuable learning journey,” Patel said. “It has taught me the importance of clarity and structure. It has honed my organizational and professional communication skills. It has taught the importance of clarity and structure in terms of the objectives beyond the practical skills.”
For Patel, the HEALTH–FAST project has been a revelation and a dream realized. As Patel gained momentum building the HEALTH–FAST training program for scholars, Patel has also been passionate about bridging the gap of health disparities. In her hometown of Gujarat, India, Patel saw first-hand the lack of healthcare access and how health disparities had a profound impact on the community.
“In India, I saw that there was lack of healthcare access and also socio-economic biases,” Patel said. “For example, the prevalence of tobacco abuse among the rural population was much more than people living in urban areas. The HEALTH–FAST initiative has provided a platform to address the disparities in the U.S. and promote health equity.”
Patel’s educational journey began in dentistry which gave her a distinctive vantage point to better understand health disparities stemming from socio-economic status and caste.
It was her dentistry experience that also served as a springboard into her work in public health. In fact, Patel once collaborated with marginalized communities to create awareness for oral hygiene measures. Patel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dentistry from India and a Master’s in Public Health from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“My journey from dentistry to master's in public health was largely driven by my experience working with marginalized communities where there was lack of awareness among people regarding preventative measures,” Patel said.
Through her diligent work with HEALTH–FAST, Patel described some of her most defining accomplishments, including the ATOD Digest, the development of speaker presentations and Q&A sessions for health equity scholars.
Engaging speakers for the ATOD Speaker Panels has been a significant achievement for Patel. Some of the innovative research topics in the speaker presentations include high-risk drinking behaviors among young adults, alcohol: the forgotten drug in HIV, mindfulness-based interventions for smoking cessation, and cannabis use in adolescence.
“This has been fascinating to learn from investigators about their research, career path, and strategies for addiction prevention,” Patel said. “We're looking forward to engaging with speakers who have expertise in the different arenas.”
Each year within the HEALTH–FAST program, scholars navigate a new topic of focus—whether it be alcohol, tobacco, addiction prevention, or cannabis.
“In 2023, the topic is alcohol. We focused on tobacco and cannabis in our first and second year respectively,” Patel said.
Leading with wisdom and kindness is Patel’s distinctive contribution to the team, according to HRI’s Research Assistant Professor Dr. Ann Chen.
“Hinal is great at communication, and she is always helpful in fixing issues,” Chen said. “Every interaction is a positive one. Her contribution to HEALTH–FAST proves what we already knew that she is a strong team player. A program cannot achieve success without a diligent program manager like Hinal.”
“We have such a good supportive staff,” Patel said. “I really feel Dr. Obasi believes in everyone a lot. The most important thing in life is to trust others.”
Stepping into the sphere of public health has been a journey into preventative care that transcends conventional boundaries, Patel underscored.
"Public health gave me a real opportunity to focus on how we can prevent things before they are already there,” Patel said. “It is a holistic public health perspective, aligned with HRI goals. This is what has tied me to this.”
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