• Proving the value of a pre-K career development award program

screenshot of several Kern Scholar program leaders, members, and alumni during Zoom retreat
Kern Scholar program leaders, members and alumni during a Zoom retreat.

For aspiring health care researcher leaders, a National Institutes of Health funded K-award may seem like the holy grail. These are externally-funded research career development awards that provide mentoring, funding and hands-on experience. Research experience and expertise is frequently a critical factor for future leadership within the institution.

However, for some a K-award may not be the right choice or may be seen as too big of a leap. At Mayo Clinic, there are other options to pursue, including the Kern Health Care Delivery Scholars program.

"Our Mayo Clinic Kern Health Care Delivery Scholars program is designed to develop health services research capacity within the Mayo Clinic practice," says Lois Krahn, M.D., deputy director for Education and Outreach, Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. "We consider it a 'pre-K' career development opportunity, and scholars receive dedicated research time, individualized mentoring, structured curriculum, and peer support on a level that cannot be found in many other programs."

"When our scholars complete their individualized program, they are much more prepared to compete successfully for federally-funded K awards, as well as R-, P-, U-awards, or other funding," continues Dr. Krahn. "And just as important, they will be equipped to serve as leaders to promote innovation in Mayo Clinic’s clinical practice”

Dr. Krahn's words are not without evidence to back them up.

Indeed, some of her center colleagues, including several current and alumni Kern Scholars, examined the academic achievements of clinician-scientists who were Kern Scholars between 2010 and 2019. The research team compared these to the achievements of participants in other unstructured ‘pre-K’ career development award programs at Mayo Clinic, as well as to those of individuals who applied by were not admitted into the Kern Scholars program.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, the investigators reported their findings. The authors demonstrated that even after adjustment for baseline number of publications, Kern Scholars achieved significantly greater productivity than the other groups.  Time to fifteenth new publication after program start, overall publications, and first- and last-author publications favored the Kern Scholars. 

The groups all went on to obtain federal K-, R- or equivalent awards or other funding in similar frequencies — the notable exception was R03 awards, which were much more common among Kern Scholars.

A recent alumni Kern Scholar, Erin Barreto, Pharm.D., was the first pharmacist to participate in the Kern Scholars program. Dr. Barreto is adding to her own numbers, as the first author on the current study.

"It's not about adding to numbers," Dr. Barreto protests. "When we publish a paper or get a grant, we are trying to improve the practice both locally and on a broader scale using systematically collected evidence. This informed approach is the ticket to improving patient care, which in the end is the central priority for clinician scientists."

The audiences for a health services research article include health care providers interested in the particular journal's focus area, as well as other researchers or clinician-scientists with similar questions to those posed in the article. But they are not the only ones who benefit.

"Obviously those who benefit from Mayo Clinic's scientific publications include our own patients," she says. "In particular, the Kern Scholars' findings often point to a better way to deliver health care to our patients or reduce total costs of care. Or, they may quantify how a particular change can improve outcomes for patients or enhance experience for caregivers."

Studies that describe a particular course of treatment, or a particular mechanism of health care delivery, can aid in shared decision making discussions. Many people look for evidence of a particular physician's expertise when making a choice of where to obtain health care. That same expertise plays a role in reputation scores for U.S. News and World Report Best Hospital and other quality rankings.

The Kern Scholars program is offered by the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. The center was established to build on Mayo Clinic's strong history of taking a scientific approach to health care. Embedded in the Practice, the center creates a learning health system within Mayo Clinic – weaving together continuous research, innovation, education and dissemination, to transform the practice of medicine at Mayo Clinic.

"A key component of a learning health system is embedded researchers, and clinician-scientists are uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity," says Felicity Enders, Ph.D., program director – methods, Kern Health Care Delivery Scholars.

"A clinician-scientist could be a practicing physician, pharmacist or advanced practice provider with specialized training and research expertise," says Dr. Enders. "In the Kern Scholars program, we train them to systematically generate, apply and translate evidence into improvements in outcomes, quality, cost and the patient experience. With this training combined with their role embedded within the Practice, our Kern Scholar clinician-scientists are uniquely positioned to lead continuous change benefitting Mayo Clinic patients and providers and the health care system as a whole.”

Through the program, the scholars become even better equipped to serve as leaders to promote innovation in Mayo Clinic’s clinical practice.

Evidence collected and transformations effected by Mayo Clinic Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery researchers and scholars are shared through publication and other scholarly activities, community engagement, public communication and outreach to improve the experience of health and health care delivery for people everywhere. equipped to serve as leaders to promote innovation in Mayo Clinic’s clinical practice”


Past and current scholars are listed below, along with their department and years in the Kern Scholar Program. Their names are linked to their research profile on www.mayo.edu or directly to their publications list from PubMed — a service of the National Library of Medicine.

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