Consuelo Wilkins’ transformative public health engagement methods recognized with National Academy of Medicine election

On Oct. 19, Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine and Vice President for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), was  elected to the National Academy of Medicine.   

The election process recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. According to a release, current members elected Wilkins “for pioneering the development of novel methods to engage traditionally hard-to-reach communities in the design and conduct of clinical research, effectively integrating participant and community perspectives. Her innovations have transformed nationwide and global data science initiatives by addressing disparities in the research participation.” 

“Dr. Wilkins’ research continues to provide compassionate and revealing insights that are advancing our understanding of the complex causes behind health disparities. Her work is helping shape solutions that will advance health equity initiatives across the nation. I want to extend my sincere congratulations to Consuelo for achieving this honor,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.    

Her election to the National Academy is testament to Dr. Wilkins’ unique ability to combine medical research with active community engagement,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente. “Her visionary leadership in advancing health equity has made a profound impact on Vanderbilt and continues to set a positive example for the Nashville community and beyond.”   

Wilkins has been elected to the NAM along with  two other Vanderbilt researchers: Nancy Carrasco, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Joe C. Davis Chair of Biomedical Science, and Velma McBride Murry, university professor of health policy and human and organizational development in Peabody College and the School of Medicine and the Lois Autrey Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Peabody College.   

Wilkins has pioneered methods of stakeholder engagement that involve community members and patients in all stages of biomedical and health research. She is currently a Principal Investigator of two NIH-funded centers: 1) the Vanderbilt-Miami-Meharry Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine and Population Health, which focuses on decreasing disparities among African Americans and Latinos using precision medicine, and 2) the Vanderbilt Recruitment Innovation Center, a national center dedicated to enhancing recruitment and retention in clinical trials.  

“Election to the National Academy of Medicine is an extraordinary honor and I am thrilled our efforts to transform how research is conducted and advance health equity are being recognized,” Wilkins said. “I hope this honor inspires others to partner with communities to pursue new and different approaches to scientific discovery and improving health.”  

Wilkins earned a BS in Microbiology and an MD from Howard University. She completed residency training in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center and a geriatric medicine fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine/Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Mo.  

Following her medical training, Wilkins earned a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation from Washington University School of Medicine and was an associate professor of Medicine in Geriatrics and Nutritional Science, Psychiatry and Surgery.  

Wilkins joined the faculties of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 2012. Last year she was named to newly created positions of Vice President for Health Equity at VUMC and Associate Dean for Health Equity for the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  

A nationally recognized leader in health equity, Wilkins is the author or co-author of more than 80 scientific publications, and the principal investigator or co-principal investigator of several major grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, including VUMC’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).  

Since 2012 Dr. Wilkins has served as executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, and with the expansion of her leadership activities at VUMC and nationally, she has recently recruited Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, a national expert in community engagement from Wake Forest University, to succeed her as director of the Alliance.   

National Academy of Medicine President  Victor J. Dzau  said of this year’s NAM cohort: “This distinguished and diverse class of new members is a truly exceptional group of scholars and leaders whose expertise in science, medicine, health, and policy will be integral to helping the NAM address today’s most pressing health challenges and inform the future of health and health care for the benefit of everyone around the globe. It is my privilege to welcome these esteemed individuals to the National Academy of Medicine.”