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Spotlight on KL2 program recipient, Jennifer Villwock, M.D.

Aug 12, 2022

We all have reasons that have guided us to the path we are on and for Jennifer Villwock, M.D., the reason was simple – she wants to fix problems that she sees to help deliver better care more effectively.

“I really like coming up with an idea and get excited when I actually see that it works,”  Villwock said. “The fun part for me is being able to troubleshoot a problem and finding the right solutions.”

Villwock, who is one of only two faculty members at the University of Kansas Medical Center to have obtained Fellow status in the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, was part of the KL2 program through Frontiers Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). During her time in the program, she had training in grant writing and qualitative methods while working on a project to better understand the patient experience of pain, designing a novel pain scale for use after surgery.

“Taking part in the grant writing class really helped me with the expectations of writing the grant. I submitted the initial version of the grant prior to the course. What the instructors told us we would get ‘dinged’ on if we didn’t include, I did! With what I learned from the course, I was able to revise this initial grant proposal and my score was significantly better,” she said. “And being a part of the KL2 program helped connect me with mentors who have become friends.

Villwock also had the opportunity to connect with other researchers, presenting at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and Stanford University. “Being able to present to them was great because of the individual feedback from the heads of departments and leaders in their respective fields,” she said.” We had the opportunity to present to them, have them review our material and thought processes, and challenge us to make our projects better and more impactful. It also showed how they are invested in the next generation of researchers. It also allowed me to meet people outside of Otolaryngology.”

And her KL2 program helped her transition to getting R01 funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which will allow her to continue her research into how a person’s sense of smell is impacted by various disease conditions. This research uses a novel smell test developed by  Villwock’s team. As part of the research, she will use patterns of responses on olfactory testing to develop olfactory phenotypes (patterns of correct and incorrect responses) to determine how accurately olfactory phenotypes predict cognitive status and how well they correlate with other biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Villwock also was selected as one of 20 finalists from across the country to participate in the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) inaugural Healthy Aging Challenge and Entrepreneurial Bootcamp. This program connects researchers with mentors from the public/private sector to help get transition ideas and products – like her team’s smell test—that can be commercialized for the marketplace.

And for anyone considering applying to the KL2 program, what would she tell them?

“This is a valuable program from the aspect of getting mentorship and developing relationships. Mentors can become friends,” she said. “It also makes you see where you can benefit from collaborating with people outside of your field. Be an active participant – you’ll get out of it what you put into it.”

Villwock also is the Section Chief of Otolaryngology at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs hospital and an associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in the KU School of Medicine.

“I really like working with students and helping them find something that interests them,” she said. “It’s great to watch them work on a project and see how they grow into their careers.”

And if that wasn’t enough, she’s a mom too.

So how does she balance all of this?

“I try to be efficient and intentional in everything I do. If I have a few minutes, I’m not on Facebook, I’m working until the work is done so I can be present for my daughter when we’re spending time together,” she said.

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Kelly Hale

Communications Coordinator

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