DeVane-Johnson receives NIH grant to address breastfeeding disparities

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Associate Professor of Nursing Stephanie DeVane-Johnson, PhD, MSN’97, CNM, FACNM, has been awarded a two-year Diversity Supplement grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The National Institute of Health (NIH) supplement supports early career researchers of color by providing mentorship, training and career development opportunities to those seeking independent research careers. 

DeVane-Johnson, who studies breastfeeding and health disparities in the Black community, will work in collaboration with investigators from RUSH University Medical Center and with VUSN Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing Education Ruth Kleinpell, PhD, FAAN, FAANP, MCCM. 

“This diversity supplement with RUSH University is a huge step for me as an early career researcher,” DeVane-Johnson said. “After finishing my PhD, for personal reasons I was not able to do a postdoctoral fellowship, which is two additional years of research training. For me, this two-year diversity supplement will be my own unique version of a postdoc.” 

DeVane-Johnson will add her qualitative methodology expertise to a funded randomized controlled trial (RCT), “Reducing Disparity in Receipt of Mother’s Own Milk in Very Low Birth Weight Infants: An Economic Intervention to Improve Adherence to Sustained Maternal Breast Pump Use (ReDiMOM),” led by multiple principal investigators, Aloka Patel, MD, professor and division chief for Neonatology at RUSH University Children’s Hospital, and Tricia Johnson, PhD, professor and economist in the Department of Health Systems Management at RUSH University, in collaboration with Paula Meier, PhD, professor in Women, Children and Family Nursing and Pediatrics at RUSH. 

“I will work with some of the best researchers in the country who have a strong record of securing grant funding for breastfeeding disparity work,” DeVane-Johnson said. “I will gain additional knowledge on qualitative methods, work with a vulnerable NICU population, which is new for me, and learn up close how and what is needed to successfully write and secure grant funding for research.” 

Black mothers are disproportionately more likely to give birth to very-low-weight infants than non-Black mothers, but significantly less likely to feed their infants with their own milk from birth until their infants are discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which increases their infants’ risks of lifelong health problems. To address this, researchers at Rush University Medical Center are testing the effects of an economic intervention that addresses barriers to milk provision. Previous research from the RUSH NICU has demonstrated maternal matriarchs of Black mothers may negatively influence milk provision by Black mothers. 

DeVane-Johnson’s qualitative interviews with Black NICU mothers and their matriarchal figures will add to the ongoing ReDiMOM RCT by eliciting descriptions of the social and cultural factors that influence the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs regarding provision of milk in the NICU setting and views regarding the intervention provided in the RCT.  This research aligns with DeVane-Johnson’s already existing breastfeeding disparity research and will help provide qualitative data to inform acceptance of the study intervention.

This program is supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number 3R01MD013969-03S1 as part of an award totaling $58,092 with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by NIMHD, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit