Health Research Exchange (HREx) to launch in 2021 with U21 Funding

The COVID‐19 pandemic has drastically changed the research environment with institutions struggling to maintain networks and career development links now and in the future. It may also result in exacerbating the research divide, particularly for underrepresented Doctoral Students and Early Career Researchers (ECR’s), highlighting the importance of promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within and across institutions.

The decrease in funding and reduced travel opportunities brought about by the pandemic have impacted many beginning a career in research. However, racial and ethnic minority groups who are underrepresented in Health Management, Services, and Policy disciplines often face unique challenges to career success due to feelings of isolation, limited collaboration opportunities, and difficulty securing mentorship and funding opportunities.  This is particularly the case in the US and UK and amplified by recent global civil unrest and uprisings against racial injustice and inequality.  The pandemic has furthermore highlighted struggles faced by nations to improve population health and need for sustained collaborations and timely evidencebased research to inform policy and practice.

The University of Maryland (UMD) in partnership with University of Birmingham (UoB) aims to support the Universitas 21 network’s Doctoral and ECR’s to promote EDI and address health systems needs through the project “Thriving in a Post COVID age: An International Collaboration And Career Development Tool to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare Management, Health Services, and Health Policy Research”.

Dr. Negin Fouladi - University of Maryland
Dr. Negin Fouladi - University of Maryland

Led by Dr. Negin Fouladi from the Department of Health Policy and Management (HPM) at the UMD School of Public Health, the project’s goal is to minimize barriers to career enhancement in healthcare through a virtual “Health Research Exchange (HREx)” platform emphasizing diversity, inclusivity, and culturally sensitive evidencebased research mentorship and professional development.  HREx will strengthen the Universitas 21’s newly launched “U21 Community” e-learning platform providing space for staff and students from across U21 universities to network through focused content in a virtual environment.

“It’s more important than ever to strengthen connections and train the next generation of researchers to be healthcare leaders. Over the past year we’ve seen the pandemic expose weaknesses of health systems around the world to improve population health as well as persistent inequalities in research and practice” says Dr. Fouladi.

“We want to use this opportunity to build a sustainable, interdisciplinary, collaboration network to move research and career development forward in unpredictable times. In the project we will survey doctoral students and ECR’s to understand the challenges they face in preparing for careers in healthcare and how a network can help them overcome these challenges.  We then plan to develop resources in HREx to include networking facilities and ongoing mentoring and training opportunities within and across UMD and UoB. We hope in the future that colleagues working at health system levels will be able to join HREx and the Universitas 21 network as healthcare solutions usually result from local efforts to meet system and community needs”.

“This collaborative project has been an excellent opportunity to expand on the local work we have been doing around early career development at the UoB. We envisage this network tool to be a resilient place for those new to healthcare management, healthcare services and health policy research, which in the long term may also contribute to the future-proofing of the sector” says Dr. Duggal.

Once launched in 2021, the team plans to make HREx available to all member institutions as a research knowledge translation and exchange tool or “OneStop Shop” to jumpstart healthcare research training, career development, and leadership opportunities across the Universitas 21 network, strengthening connections and interdisciplinary research.

Sandhya Duggal
Dr Sandyha Duggal

PI, UMD: Negin Fouladi, PhD, MPH, MS, Associate Clinical Professor and Director, Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health

Co-I, UoB: Sandhya Duggal, PhD, MA, BA, Research Fellow, Department of Social Work and Social Care, School of Social Policy. 

Co-I, UMD: Aitalohi Amaize, MPH, BSN, RN, CEN, SANEA, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health.

Aitalohi Amaize
Aitalohi Amaize MPH


Portia Buchongo ECR
Portia Buchongo MPH

Co-I, UMD: Portia Buchongo MPH, BSN,RN, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health

Virtual Platform development, UMD:  Stephanie Bryant, MPH candidate, Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health

Project advisor, UoB: Mark Exworthy PhD, Bsc, Professor, Health Services Management Centre, School of Social Policy

Stephanie Bryant
Stephanie Bryant

Project advisor, UoB: Ian Snelling,  MA, BA, Senior Fellow, Health Services Management Centre, School of Social Policy


Connie Wan