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Medical and Population Health Sciences Research

The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s (HWCOM) Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research is committed to the unbiased generation and analysis of data and the dissemination of results in order to serve the needs of the community, the academic pursuits of FIU faculty, and the educational aspirations of students. The mission of the Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research is to provide research education, support, and capacity development to the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM).

Vision & Goals

The mission of the Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research is to provide research education, support, and capacity development to the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM).

The Department supports HWCOM faculty, students, and staff, as well as its external partners in the areas of medical and population health sciences research. The Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research is comprised of three divisions: Student Research and Learning, Applied Health Sciences Research, and Faculty and Staff Support. We aspire to inspire future research, support programmatic activities designed to invoke change, effectively translate findings into relevant public policy recommendations, and train the next generation of health care providers in the proper use of evidence-based medicine.


Healthy neighborhoods provide the backbone for academic achievement, the establishment of a strong workforce, a stable development and a vibrant economy. The FIU HWCOM Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research seeks to support a long-term, successfully sustainable community through research and education directed at: recognizing, understanding, and effectively responding to the intersections between a community’s health status and the social determinants of health (those conditions in which people are born, live, work and age). It is these social determinants that are most responsible for health inequities and the vast disparities found in health status across the varying populations of South Florida. Chronic disease and preventive health indicators throughout the South Florida region illustrate the complexities associated with ethnically diverse medically underserved populations and health status, thus highlighting the need to understand these differences on a neighborhood level. FIU’s HWCOM Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research is leading the way in not only interpreting but responding to these factors.

Message from the Chair

Improvements in a community’s overall health and wellness rely on the effective engagement of a three prong strategy in which each element is designed to interact and support each other. These are: 1) systematic data collection subjected to evaluation and review; 2) program/intervention development and implementation, and 3) responsive public policy. The data in item #1 is collected by the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research. Throughout the data gathering process, performed within the appropriate community context and in accordance with the objective assessment of the collaborative structures and processes established to affect systems change, our Department supports the vision and mission of the FIU HWCOM by being responsive to locally identified needs and preparing the next generation of South Florida health care providers to be World’s Ahead.

Juan M Acuña, MD, MSc
Associate Professor of Human and Molecular Genetics
Obstetrics and Gynecology and Epidemiology & Chair
Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research


  • Division of Student Research and Learning

    This Division of Student Research and Learning is responsible for academic coordination and supervision of the research activities involving students while they are in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. These research activities are classified as: curricular or non-curricular research. Through curricular research medical students are expected to complete the Research Scholarship Course (RSC), a 9-credit mandatory course aimed to develop students’ competence to perform research as lead or co-lead investigators. Students function as lead participants in a research project, substantially contributing by generating a research idea, question or hypothesis, developing a project proposal and data collection tools, engaging in data collection activities, analysis, and interpretation, writing a short document summarizing the experience, and preparing presentation materials for their research. Potential projects may cover, but are not limited to, basic sciences, community-based, clinical or epidemiological research, health care quality and improvement research, and medical education research. Students are encouraged to work in teams of two or three to share the role of primary investigator in a project. Within non-curricular research, students often get engaged in research that is not part of the RSC. However, students are expected to report all research participation to HWCOM. The division will be in charge of organizing a reporting system that can be used efficiently by the students, which will allow the department to maintain a record of the non-curricular projects in which students are participating while they are at the HWCOM. The Division chief is Dr. Juan Lozano MD, MSc.

    Scientific Writing Guide

  • Division Applied Health Sciences Research

    The Division of Applied Health Sciences Research’s goal is to support strong quantitative reasoning, research design, methods, statistics, and analytic techniques appropriate to applied research. It supports the systematic evaluation for internal and external projects so health data are permanently collected, analyzed, and disseminated in a valid and organized way. The Division is responsible for supporting academia-neighborhood partnerships. It promotes grant application and development, as well as data management, for clinical, community and population-based research at local, state, national, and international settings. The Division actively seeks access to data repositories through data use agreements that will allow medical students and faculty to plan and implement applied research projects. The Division helps to conceptualize applied research initiatives formulated by HWCOM faculty, staff, and students while promoting collaborative translational and applied research initiatives in partnership with programs and research groups from other colleges at FIU. The Division Chief is Dr. Juan Carlos Zevallos, MD.

  • Division of Faculty Support and Development

    The Division of Faculty Support and Development provides an integrated career development program for all faculty and scientists engaged in translational, clinical or epidemiological research who are affiliated with the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. The Division of Faculty Support and Development is responsible for providing mentorship, training, and logistic support for the development of successful research projects. The Division will aim to assist and collaborate with faculty by developing courses and workshops to improve knowledge and skills of research development. The Division supports research-training activities that provide accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and will provide CME credits for participants. In connection with research investigators, the Division provides support before, during, and after a research is developed (through consultation, advocacy, tools, communication, and best-practice solutions. The Division will assist with Institutional Review Board submissions as well as the development of informed consent documents. The Division Chief is Dr, Juan Ruiz Pelaez, MD.

Call for Abstracts

Opportunities are available for all HWCOM students and affiliates (including PA, MA, MS, & PhD students, residents, and alumni) to submit abstracts for the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s Annual Research Symposium.

Abstracts are invited for the following types of presentations:

Oral presentation: Ten minute presentation with five minutes for audience questions or discussion.
Poster presentation: Posters will be up during the full length of the Symposium. Poster sessions will consist of designated times during which presenters will stand next to their posters and present them.

Please follow the Format Instructions and submit abstracts through this abstract submission form.

Deadline: February 29, 2020. 

Presenters will be notified by March 13, 2020.

We are pleased to announce the Fourth Annual Research Symposium Awards for best poster and oral presentation!

HWCOM Annual Research Symposium
April 22, 2020
Florida International University

If you have any questions please email

Annual Faculty and Student Awards and Student Research Symposium

This event recognizes achievement and highlights innovative research findings in the areas of basic sciences, community-based, epidemiological research, health care quality and improvement research, and medical education research.
Download 2015 Symposium Program (PDF)
Download 2016 Symposium Program (PDF)

Community Research Initiatives

  • 2017 Sweetwater Community Survey- An academia-neighborhood partnership


    The Sweetwater Project is a collaborative endeavor between several Florida International University (FIU) colleges. The Sweetwater Project is administered and supported by FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Department of Medical Health Sciences, under the Division of Applied Health Research and Data Coordination. The survey is designed to assess the profile of the non-institutionalized adult (18 years of age and older) population residing in Sweetwater, Florida. The overall objective of the project is to collect standardized data on preventive health practices and risk factors that are linked to chronic diseases, injuries, and preventable infectious diseases that affect the adult population.

    The planned survey includes questions on tobacco use, HIV/AIDS knowledge and prevention, exercise, immunization, health status, healthy days - health-related quality of life, health care access, inadequate sleep, hypertension awareness, cholesterol awareness, chronic health conditions, alcohol consumption, fruits and vegetables consumption, arthritis burden, and seatbelt use. In addition, selected adult participants will be asked respond to several childhood health and wellness indicators, including asthma prevalence for people aged 17 years or younger. Finally, the survey includes two separate modules on transportation and computer skills assessment.

    The survey field operations will be managed by FIU HWCOM Medical Health Sciences Department, and will be conducted by trained interviewers utilizing a face-to-face approach and implemented to a probabilistic sample of adult Sweetwater residents.


    Many questions are taken from established national surveys, such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)[i], the National Health Interview Survey or the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)[ii] as well as questions included in three previous household-based surveys conducted by FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Department of Medical Health Sciences. This allows us to take advantage of questions that have been cognitive, culturally and field tested, especially in Spanish-speaking populations.

    Core questions: A standard set of demographic questions, and health-related perceptions, conditions, and behaviors (e.g., health status, health care access, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, disability, and HIV/AIDS risks).

    Optional questions: Sets of questions on specific themes such as frailty, health care access and use, sexually transmitted diseases, and basic computer skills self-assessment[iii]

    [i] Remington PL, Smith MY, Williamson DF, Anda RF, et al. Design, characteristics, and usefulness of state-based behavioral risk factor surveillance: 1981-1987. Public Health Reports 1988;103(4):366-375.

    [ii] National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Available at


  • 2012 South Miami-Dade Community Benchmark Survey

    From February to June 2013, trained interviewers from the Division of Research and Information Data Coordinating Center from the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University surveyed randomly selected households within a close proximity to South Miami Hospital. Out of 753 households the overall response rate was 57%. Estimates provided in this report should be accurate within plus or minus 5 percent. The survey provides a broad range of information. Questionnaire topics includes demographics, neighborhood/community characteristics, access to health care services, health outcomes and maternal and child health.

     The following are key study findings obtained from reports of adult household participants: 

    • The Community Advisory Board (CAB) for this survey defined an Area of Greatest Need, which is shown in Figure 2 within blue lines.
    • Three out of four household respondents reported belonging to a minority race/ethnic group.
    • Approximately half of the heads of the households had at least a Bachelor’s degree; this is approximately two times higher than the percent within the Area of Greatest Need (27%).
    • One out of four households reported that someone in the household was uninsured at some point during the twelve months prior to the survey (one out of three households for the Area of Greatest Need). At the time of the survey, it was reported that in 17% of the households live someone without health insurance.
    • A third of the households reported having the hospital emergency room as their regular place of care, as compared to 44% in the Area of Greatest Need.
    • Screening rates for cervical (81%) and colorectal cancer (61%) were reported at a lower rate than those stated in the Healthy People 2010’s target of 93% and 71%, respectively.
    • Approximately seven out of ten households, having children 0-18 years old, reported that children did not receive any type of health care service/routine preventive care in school.
    • Hypertension was the more prevalent chronic condition reported in the study area: In approximately half of the households interviewed, at least one member had been diagnosed with the condition.

    Almost twice as many apartments reported a member diagnosed with asthma as compared to single- family homes during the five years previous to answering the survey.

  • 2011 Little Haiti Benchmark Survey and Post-Earthquake Needs Assessment
    The Little Haiti Benchmark Survey is a funded supplement of an National Institute of Health (NIH) grant 
    The Haitian community in Miami-Dade has been affected in a myriad of ways by the recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Given the close proximity to Haiti and the historic migratory patterns between Haiti and South Florida, the consequences of the aftermath of the earthquake are likely to have both short- and long term impacts on South Florida and its Haitian population. It is anticipated that the need and demand for health care and social services for residents of Miami’s Little Haiti community will intensify. 
    The Little Haiti Benchmark study will provide valuable baseline information needed for the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine to form an equitable partnership with the Little Haiti community and establish a socially responsive medical school program designed to close the gap in health disparities and provide short-, mid-, and long-term mitigation efforts, thus improving prevention strategies and the overall health status of local residents. These linkages will be developed using an innovative trans-disciplinary approach and engaging the community on multiple levels and across organizational systems. 
    This study provides an opportunity to collect much needed information on past conditions before the disaster (by recollection), what specific risk factors have the greatest impact on the daily living conditions of Little Haiti residents now after the disaster, and will provide the opportunity for longer term monitoring of this community for relief efforts. The results obtained will inform the development of community-based strategies and policies to restructure health and social services and inform future research efforts focused on post-disaster determinants of the health status of patients and communities. In particular, the results will immediately aid in the short- and long-term recovery of Haitian individuals and families directly affected by the Haitian earthquake. Consequently, the medical training model developed as the result of this study will result in cutting edge health practitioner relief programs in this community where current services and medical students will be equal partners with social workers, nurses, lawyers, and community based organizations ( churches, housing advocates to name but a few to address their patient’s health and social needs).
  • 2009 NW Miami Dade Community Benchmark Survey

    Health disparities often result from socially unequal systems that congregate multiple overlapping and interconnected environmental and social risks and stressors. Minority communities in historically disenfranchised areas are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes, elevated disease risks, and adverse conditions for health.   The primary objective of this study is to conduct a community wide assessment that documents the influence of social determinants on health status of individuals and families living in several medically underserved racially and culturally diverse neighborhoods in North Miami-Dade County.  

    Findings from the Community Benchmark Survey project will add to a growing body of literature indicating that community level variables such as poverty, poor housing conditions, unequal access to health treatment, and racism have a compounded negative impact on health outcomes. The resulting baseline data provided by this survey will be used to target future community-based participatory research efforts designed to improve health outcomes.   


    The baseline assessment is a population-based random sample survey covering a geographic area in North Miami-Dade County containing approximately 36,000 households. Of these, 2200 households who lived in either single family dwellings or duplexes were selected to participate in the survey.

    Survey Area

    The survey contains questions addressing demographics and topics that follow FIU HWCOM  and/or community interests. These include issues associated with health access, social determinants, health behaviors, selected questions addressing legal aspects of the households, and health outcomes of special interest. Health outcomes are limited to intermediate outcomes of large prevalence (such as children with disabilities, maternal and child health problems such as asthma, issues related to pregnancy, some chronic disease prevalence in the elderly population, diabetes, hypertension, etc). The survey questionnaire contains validated questions from surveillance systems and other sources such as the Centers for Disease Control, World Bank, World Health Organization and Annie E Casey Foundation thereby allowing the results from this community to be compared to an immediate national frame of reference.

    Members of the local community were recruited and trained to serve as the field investigators. They were responsible for conducting the household interviews and achieved a staggering 80% completion rate.

    Benchmark data, data layers using geospatial information, and other community identifiers will be analyzed for emergent themes and utilized to establish frequency maps, community patterns and descriptive characteristics for the overall community, community organizations, networks and neighborhoods. Relational analysis using geospatial information and analysis will be done to determine the associative measures of proximity between community characteristics, distribution of risk determinants, and outcomes.

Community-Based Faculty

Raul Herrera, MD
Assistant Professor


Florida International University
Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
Medical and Population Health Sciences Research
11200 SW 8th Street, AHC4-250W3
Miami, FL 33199

Tel: 305-348-0570
Fax: 305-348-0123