Geniuses among us: Three area researchers receive MacArthur awards

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    Three area researchers are among the 24 artists, writers and scientists who have received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” awards. MacArthur Fellows each receive $625,000 over five years to continue and further their work.

    Dr. Jeffrey Brenner

    Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, who leads the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and its quest to provide more comprehensive and cost-effective care for very sick patients, said he is honored to receive the award, which will allow his organization to support more patients.

    The group focuses on “super users” who frequently end up in emergency rooms.

    “We send teams right up to the bedside, they enroll the patient, go to their home within 24 hours of discharge,” explained Brenner. “They go with them to their primary care appointment, and with them to their specialty appointment.

    “These are the most costly, most complicated, most extreme patients,” said Brenner, adding that just 1 percent of patients in Camden are responsible for 30 percent of the health care cost.

    “For the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, this award will vault our work to a new level of visibility and help us realize our vision for the City of Camden,” wrote Brenner in a letter to friends and supporters. “To be the first city in the country to bend the cost curve and improve quality citywide.”

    Angela Duckworth

    One of the other newly minted area MacArthur fellows is Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania whose work focuses on the quality of “grit.”

    “It’s pluck, stamina, courage, tenacity, perseverance,” she said. “It’s a blend of being passionate about something, but also sticking through with the effort in addition to that interest.”

    Duckworth, who studies how to measure grit as a character trait, then examines how having grit — or not — affects an individual’s life and work. The work has important implications for children, she said, adding that she believes there is too much focus now on protecting children from failure.

    “Why is it so important that we don’t keep score in games anymore so, God forbid, that somebody lose, or somebody not win,” she said during an interview on WHYY’s “Voices in the Family.” “I think the message should be: How is the game played? Did you carry yourself with character, did you carry yourself with character, did you win today, did you lose today, what are you going to do tomorrow?”

    Julie Livingston

    The third winner from the region is Julie Livingston of Rutgers University. A historian trained in public health as well as anthropology, she has written about people’s experiences with illness in Africa, and says that Western doctors and patients have something to learn from people there. Her most recent book is “Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic.”

    Livingston, who now wants to focus her attention on the history of suicide, said receiving the award was both thrilling and overwhelming.

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