In the Spotlight: Marjorie Jenkins (MEHP ’15), MEHP Capstone Director

By Karen Blum

Catching up with… Marjorie Jenkins (MEd, ’15), MEHP Capstone Director

Marjorie Jenkins grew up impoverished and lacking access to health care in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. But inspired by her grandfather, who worked as a coal miner and then a janitor for a local hospital, and who often treated her ailments, she aspired to a career in medicine.

When a school guidance counselor told her she was too poor to go to medical school, she put herself through school at Tennessee Technological University, earning a chemical engineering degree cum laude. While working as a chemical engineer for Kodak Eastman in Tennessee, Jenkins learned of a relatively new medical school nearby at East Tennessee State University. She applied, was accepted, and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1995.

Today, Jenkins, a national thought leader in sex and gender research and its clinical application, wears many hats. She is director of medical initiatives and scientific engagement for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health; associate dean for women in health and science and a professor of internal medicine for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center; and director and chief scientific officer for the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health at Texas Tech. She also directs the Johns Hopkins MEHP program’s capstone experience.

Q: How did you come to Johns Hopkins for the MEHP program?

A: I was a full professor in academia building a national curriculum program in sex and gender, but I had not had any formal training in curriculum development. Our dean asked me if I wanted to go get a master’s in education, and I laughed out loud. “No, I do not want to get a master’s in education,” I thought. “I’ve got a chemical engineering degree, I’ve got a medical degree, and I really am not thinking about another degree.” But I went home and thought about it and decided that I needed some more knowledge. He told me he heard that Johns Hopkins had a new program and offered to pay for it. I called the office and spoke with Maggie Shamer; she was so great about telling me what the program was about. I also spoke to Dr. Ungaretti (Toni), the MEHP program director, who was so encouraging, so I chose Johns Hopkins.

Q: How did you come to head the capstone experience?

A: When I graduated in 2015, the FDA was recruiting me to do some research and policy work in the Office of the Commissioner, Office of Women’s Health. I decided to do that and took a one-year sabbatical that has since expanded to a four-year-long position, which is ending this year. Since I thought I would be at the FDA for only a year, I didn’t anticipate doing clinical work here or seeing patients, so I called Toni to tell her I would be near Baltimore if she needed any assistance with the program. She told me the pipeline of students was growing and she needed to expand the capacity of the capstone research program. The capstone process was still fresh in my mind because I had just completed it.

Q: What do you do in this role?

A: I work year-round with the capstone program. I speak with every fellow that enters the capstone and hear about their proposed project. I find out where they are in the program and give them some idea of the capstone experience—it’s an 18- to 24-month process for most of our students to do a research project and get a manuscript ready. I guide them, and then select an adviser I think will pair well with them on their topic and invite them to connect. I also serve as a mentor and adviser for my own fellows and make sure things are moving along for all students and faculty capstone advisers.

Q: Why is the capstone so important to the program?

A: The capstone experience for several of our fellows is the first time that they’ve done research. They may be early in their career, maybe they just finished residency, or they are doing another fellowship along with this one. Their work within the capstone is a reflection of what they have learned throughout the program. It’s a representation of the work, theories, and principles of the MEHP program, and the capstone process challenges them to show that and to learn how to apply rigorous scientific methodology to health professionals’ education and write for journals in order to be published. This program provides a great set of foundational skills that will benefit them in their academic careers. The majority of our graduates have submitted their work for publication, and it’s always great to get an email from a fellow you advised that their work has been accepted for publication.

Q: What do you look for in these projects?

A: Whether it fills a gap in the literature that needs to be answered. We look for the project to  reflect the foundational principles and knowledge obtained throughout the MEHP program, the scientific methodology, and whether the project can successfully undergo rigorous peer review at some point.

What I really love about the capstone and the entire MEHP program is that we are there for the students. Life happens. A student may suddenly have to move because of an ill family member, for example, and we really work with them to help ensure that they progress to their diploma. We have very high-quality standards for program completion, but given that, we also provide personalized attention to our fellows and make sure they successful navigate the program through to completion.

Q: How did the MEHP program help your own career?

A: I was a tenured professor who had been in academics for about 12 years when I entered the program, but I have to say that it has really helped my career. I am now helping lead our third international summit on sex and gender in health professions education; I have served as guest editor for supplements of journals on sex and gender in medical education. Our internationally recognized curricular work can be found at sexandgenderhealth.org. The resources posted there are very well-designed for the adult learner. They are vetted through peer review, assessment is built in, and all of that is a reflection of the MEHP program.

The MEHP degree also helps my credibility when I speak to faculty who are educators and curriculum gatekeepers, like associate deans of curriculum. Having MEHP behind my name speaks volumes to them—they know that I speak and understand the language of medical education. In medical schools, we typically hire clinicians and then we tell them to teach. People who make education their career track learn more about assessment and alignment with content and learning objectives. Since I wanted to create curricular change, I needed to have credibility within that space.

At the FDA, I have developed national webinars for our office to help train clinical trialists and use many of the principles I learned from the MEHP program. I also developed scientific training seminars and built in assessment before and after those lectures, which was not done before, and the awareness to do that was because of this program. I take the knowledge and skills from the MEHP program everywhere with me, and it enhances almost everything I do.

The beautiful thing about this program is that we have an excellent group of dedicated faculty who teach our fellows to go back into their work environment and create change in health professionals education. Through the MEHP program, our fellows are empowered to implement true change in how we are educating the next generation of providers.

Marjorie Jenkins (MEd, ’15), MEHP Capstone Director