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September 1, 2020
Statement on the Retirement of Dr. Hannah Valantine
It is with truly mixed emotions that I announce that Hannah A. Valantine, M.D., will be retiring from NIH as Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity later this month to return home to California, Stanford University, and her family. While I am happy for her, I know that all of us will sincerely miss her leadership at NIH. Hannah joined NIH in the spring of 2014 and has done an outstanding job carrying out a comprehensive strategy for promoting inclusiveness and equity throughout the biomedical research enterprise, starting with NIH itself. Her laser-like focus on expanding recruitment and retention of the brightest minds regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and socioeconomic status has produced remarkable results over a few short years. At the time of her arrival, I said that Hannah had the experience, dedication, and tenacity to move NIH forward on this critically important issue, and she has proved my words to be resoundingly true. Taking on this longstanding challenge is not for the faint of heart, and time and again, Hannah demonstrated her courage and determination to effect meaningful change.
Hannah’s accomplishments during her time at NIH are too numerous to mention, so I will only highlight a few. For example, she established the Distinguished Scholars Program, which has had a dramatic, positive impact on the diversity of tenure-track investigators at NIH. As a mechanism for implementing the recommendations of the NIH Equity Taskforce, which she co-chaired with NIH Deputy Director for Intramural Research Michael M. Gottesman, M.D., Hannah established the NIH Equity Committee to systematically track and evaluate diversity and inclusion metrics in each NIH Institute and Center’s intramural program. Under her leadership, there has been a significant increase in representation of women as tenure-track and tenured principal investigators (PI), and of African American/Black and Hispanic tenure-track PIs in the Intramural Program. There also has been a significant increase in representation of women in NIH leadership positions, such as Institute/Center Directors and Scientific Directors.
Hannah not only improved diversity, she played a major role in taking on workplace harassment at NIH. One of her significant achievements was developing and implementing the first NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey. Through her tireless efforts to design and implement a scientifically rigorous survey instrument, she helped achieve a high response rate from NIH employees, contractors, fellows, and trainees. The findings provided critical data that will inform NIH’s strategies to improve the workplace moving forward. The survey provides a tool for NIH-funded institutions across the country to assess and improve their workplace climates.
The impact of Hannah’s work has been felt well beyond the NIH campus. She has made several important inroads into improving diversity and equity among the extramural research community. For example, Hannah designed the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program that is being implemented by the NIH Common Fund to create cultures of inclusive excellence at NIH-funded institutions. She also guided the National Research Mentoring Network program on coaching and mentoring for grant writing toward successful applications and awards supporting scientists from diverse backgrounds, including those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Since her arrival, there has been a significant increase in the number of R01 applications and awards that identify African American/Black and Hispanic scientists as the Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI). And for early career scientists, she has focused on career development awards (K-series), the penultimate stage before R01 grants, increasing the number of applications and awards on which African American/Black and Hispanic scientists are identified as PD/PIs, essentially eliminating the racial gap in success rates for K-awards.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Hannah also has run a highly productive research program within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). She created the Genomic Research Alliance for Transplantation (GRAfT), a consortium of five heart and lung transplant programs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, which has enrolled and is actively following more than 500 patients, 40% of whom are African American/Black. She is using the technology that she co-invented at Stanford — donor-derived cell-free DNA in blood — to monitor organ transplant rejection in the GRAfT cohort, and to understand the mechanisms that explain how and why African Americans/Blacks reject their organ transplants at higher rates than White recipients. Hannah also has maintained her track record of personally mentoring next generation scientists from diverse backgrounds. Under her mentorship, Sean Agbor-Enoh, M.D., Ph.D., an African American physician-scientist, is now a Lasker Clinical Research Scholar, Distinguished Scholar, and tenure-track investigator at NHLBI, and all five of her postbaccalaureate students have been admitted to M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. programs.
These examples only scratch the surface of Hannah’s contributions to improving diversity and equity at NIH and throughout the broader biomedical research community. She will leave behind a lasting legacy as she returns home to the West Coast, her family, and her colleagues at Stanford. I am pleased to announce that while we embark on a nationwide search for Hannah’s replacement, Marie A. Bernard, M.D. will step in as acting Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity while continuing in her role as Deputy Director of the National Institute on Aging. In the meantime, however, please join me in thanking Hannah for her tremendous service and wishing her the very best in her new chapter.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health