2023 STAR Distinguished Alumni Award - Arleen F. Brown, MD, PhD

Headshot of Arleen Brown for 2023 STAR distinguished alumni award

Arleen F. Brown, MD, PhD
Professor of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Co-Director, UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute

About Dr. Brown
Dr. Brown’s research focuses on improving health outcomes, enhancing health care quality, and reducing disparities for adults with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, particularly those with complex medical and social needs. 

Her research has included studies to improve diabetes care for older adults and minority patients and studies to understand clinical, socioeconomic, and health system influences on chronic disease management in under-resourced communities. Dr. Brown currently co-directs the NCATS-funded UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and the CTSI’s Community Engagement and Research Program (CERP). Dr. Brown leads the NHLBI-funded multi-site program, the UCLA-UCI END DISPARITIES Center, whose goal is to reduce cardiometabolic disparities in Latino, Black, Asian, and American Indian Communities in LA County and Orange County. She also serves as PI on an NHLBI-funded study to reduce racial ethnic blood pressure disparities among multi-ethnic patients in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services safety net using community engagement strategies and behavioral economics. Dr. Brown also leads the NHLBI-funded “Share, Trust, Organize, Partner: the COVID-19 California Alliance” (STOP COVID-19 CA), a coalition of 11 academic institutions and their networks of community partners across California. She is also a PI on the newly funded National Center for Engagement in Diabetes Equity Research (CEDER), whose goal is to establish an important resource for facilitating Type 2 diabetes (T2D) research with an equity focus and national reach.

Dr. Brown received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, her MD from the University of California, San Francisco, and a PhD through the STAR Program from the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA.  She completed the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at UCLA.

What research question(s) are you most interested in solving? What steps have you taken to solve it?

I am interested in multilevel factors—patient, provider, health system, community, and policy—that influence chronic disease disparities and developing multilevel interventions to address these disparities. I am also interested in expanding our definitions of “evidence-based” care so that it incorporates evidence from the patients, communities, and systems that are often excluded from research. Ultimately, our team is interested in deploying multi-level interventions to improve health outcomes and promote health equity.

Why did you decide to pursue the physician-scientist pathway through the STAR Program at UCLA?

I decided to pursue the physician-scientist pathway through the STAR Program because it was a wonderful opportunity to expand my understanding of the interplay between clinical care and the social factors that determine health. It allowed me the time to focus on ways to influence outcomes for patients who have been historically marginalized, the communities where they live, and health systems where they receive care.

Can you share a memorable experience from when you were a trainee in the STAR Program?

The STAR Program provided one of my first opportunities to attend a research meeting with colleagues from diverse disciplines. Discussions at that meeting, with other STAR fellows from nephrology, cardiology, general medicine, and other specialties—all interested in tackling social disparities—were pivotal in shaping my research questions and still inform my research. 

How did the STAR Program impact your professional development as a physician-scientist?

The STAR Program has affected every aspect of my professional development. The STAR Program provided opportunities to both gain the methods that I need to conduct rigorous research in health equity and develop strategies to ask the right questions. Program leads, mentors, and peers encouraged me to challenge traditional approaches to addressing chronic disease disparities, gave me the courage to make mistakes, and provided support that made it possible to learn from those mistakes. Most importantly, the STAR Program helped me connect to a network of colleagues who are thoughtful, curious, collaborative, and supportive, yet willing to ask tough questions and collaborate on the hard work of answering these questions.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your research career thus far?

Working with staff and trainees to see them develop new skills (that surpass my own) and accomplish their goals is the most rewarding aspect of my job.  I work with amazing people (within and outside the university) who bring tough new questions to our research team and do not shy away from challenges.

What advice would you share with the next generation of physician-scientists?

Do work that you love. Work with people you really like. Respect the expertise of everyone you interact with, including your patients, the communities we serve, and your colleagues, staff, and trainees.