TGIF—Janet Brown-Friday: A Wearer of Many Hats in the Clinical, Research, and Patient Education Space Both In and Outside of Montefiore Einstein

To say Janet Brown-Friday, R.N., M.S.N., M.P.H., is a dynamo is an understatement.

For nearly 40 years she has been committed to patient care and clinical research, as well as to Montefiore Einstein where she has spent the majority of her professional life.

She started as a program coordinator for the Diabetes Prevention Program and Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study, rising to clinical manager for the Diabetes Clinical Trials Unit responsible for multiple National Institutes of Health-funded trials. 

She recently moved from the department of medicine’s division of endocrinology and diabetes to the division of general internal medicine where she is now the project director of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) / Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) Combined Cohort Study.

In January, Ms. Brown-Friday was named president for healthcare and education at the American Diabetes Association (ADA), where she is also a member and principal officer of its national board and chair of its science and healthcare council. All while still working at Montefiore Einstein.

Born in Brooklyn to parents who emigrated from the Caribbean and who stressed the importance of education, she was the first person at Hunter college to graduate with a dual M.S.N.-M.P.H. degree.

We recently chatted with Ms. Brown-Friday who filled us in on her remarkable career.

What will you do in your role as president for healthcare and education for the ADA?

One area I am focusing on is pushing for diversity in clinical trials. It’s one of the things I have been passionate about for most of my adult life and professional career. While there has been improvement in recruiting more people from diverse backgrounds in clinical research, for the most part, clinical research has focused on middle-class, middle-aged white males.

I don’t think that there is an intention to actively exclude people of diverse backgrounds but it may require more attention and time and it is easier to default to a homogenous group.

In addition, along with the president of medicine and science, I will co-chair and oversee the ADA’s healthcare council, which is responsible for managing all of its subcommittees, including the subcommittees that create the annual conference scientific sessions and produce the annual standards of care for diabetes report, as well as subcommittees on health disparities and advocacy.

Tell us about your background and what drew you to endocrinology and diabetes, specifically.

It was kind of a fluke.

When I was in graduate school, I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was going to graduate school part-time originally and then received a scholarship, which allowed me to finish my graduate education as a full-time student. Therefore, I needed to leave my full-time job as a nurse manager in a skilled nursing facility and focus solely on my education. But I also needed to make a living, so I was working per diem.

There was also some serendipity involved. My younger sister was working for an elected official in Brooklyn. He was a member of an American Diabetes Association committee that was creating programs aimed at diabetes in the African American community in the New York metro area. He was extremely busy and knowing that she had a sister who was a nurse, asked her to ask me if I would be willing to take on his responsibilities. 

This was perfect for me. After going to graduate school for a couple of years, I decided that I wanted to have a master’s in public health because I was interested in working in the community. One of the projects I was introduced to was “Diabetes Sundays,” where we would go out to the community to educate people about diabetes prevention and management. This was where I learned a lot more about diabetes, not just about medications, which, as an R.N., I already knew. But also, its burdens to the African American community. 

Soon after, I was giving presentations at churches around the city and advanced my knowledge by attending scientific conferences. By chance I saw a flyer advertising a position at Einstein for a nurse diabetes educator. While I wasn’t a diabetes educator at the time, I applied anyway and secured an interview with Dr. Joel Zonszein, who was the director of the Clinical Diabetes Center within the division of endocrinology and diabetes (now professor emeritus), which led to a referral for a diabetes research study coordinator position within the division. And that’s how I started at Einstein.

What are you most proud of professionally?

There are things that I have accomplished that I really enjoyed and where I believe I made a difference though I am probably my worst critic.

I am really proud of the clinical research studies that I have worked on with Dr. Jill Crandall (chief of the division of endocrinology and diabetes), including the Diabetes Prevention Program and GRADE (Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness Study.

Especially gratifying were the interactions with the study participants. The way they were treated at Einstein made them feel as though they were getting a service not providing one. It became more like a visitation. When they would come for visits, we would get our work for the study accomplished but always would find the time to talk about family, what was going on in their lives, etc. If they had other medical issues, we would try and get them the help they needed.

How are you able to do all that you do?

I wouldn’t have been able to work on outside committees and other projects if Drs. Harry Shamoon, professor emeritus of medicine (division of endocrinology and diabetes) and Jill Crandall at Einstein had not made it possible. They trusted that I would complete my work responsibilities while representing both myself and Einstein and gave me the freedom to do so.