For years, I have been obsessed with understanding why some communities are more greatly impacted by disease than others. Now truthfully, I was quite ignorant about the unequal burden of disease until I began working with poor and under-served communities in Durham, NC while I was in medical school. It was only through that experience that I realized that some communities have poorer overall health and worse treatment outcomes than other communities. These differences are known as health disparities.
So as a medical/graduate student, I decided that, in addition to curing cancer, I wanted to make sure that everyone had equal access to healthcare and we would no longer have underserved populations in the U.S.
I now laugh at my naiveté, but these musings helped to fuel my current passion for community outreach and education. You see, I wanted to know why health disparities existed. So, as any good scientist would do, I formulated a hypothesis, developed a research strategy, and began exploring. However, I quickly realized that healthcare disparities are a very complicated issue. It was very difficult to differentiate between the biologic and social determinants of health. In other words, how much of the problem is nature versus nurture??
I realized that my hypothesis-driven approach was not an appropriate way to address this problem. Instead, I needed to immerse myself in these under-served communities in order to understand them better. This is where my training as an ethnographer comes in.
In 1989, I spent a summer at Northern Arizona University studying ethnography. According to Wikipedia, ethnography is “a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena… It observes the world from the point of view of the subject (not the [observer] ethnographer).” Essentially, I learned how to observe people and be a good listener.
In order to answer questions related to a community’s health and well-being, one MUST take time to fully understand the environment, the background, and the current mind-set of the individuals who make up that community. In other words, it is impossible to fully understand health care disparities unless one takes time to actually go and talk to the members of each community exhibiting poor health outcomes!!!
So that is what I do – I go into communities and simply watch and listen.
Tedious work, to say the least. Rewarding? Yes – but tedious. How can I develop a larger platform – one that will enable hundreds, or perhaps thousands, to provide insights into their communities?!?!?
Several months ago, I visited Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, MA. I was invited to speak to their youth as part of a Back to School Celebration and decided to attend the entire service, instead of racing from an abbreviated visit to my home church in Boston. After living, working, and worshipping in Boston for over 6 years, I was impressed by how engaged this congregation was with its community. After I delivered my short dissertation to that morning's attendees, I had a lengthy discussion with Pastor Larry Ward and shared my vision of a spirited discourse on community health.
He told me that my opinions and expertise were important and valuable, and suggested that I start blogging. He also recommended the book “Platform” by Michael Hyatt. Now I must confess, I haven’t read the book – YET. But his words resonated with me. And even though I was at first frightened by the prospect of putting my opinions out there on the blogosphere for all to view (and comment upon), I realized that this was something I NEEDED to do.
So, here I am. Will you take this journey with me?? Let’s learn from one another. Help me get to know the heart of the community!!
I welcome you to my blog: A C.L.E.A.R. Conversation on Health.
Each week, I will post an article related to one of the C.L.E.A.R. health topics listed below:
Community– Building and maintaining a healthy community.
Literacy – Health Literacy 101: Understanding and using health information
Equity – Health disparities: closing the gap
Advocacy – Ways to advocate for yourself, your family, and your community
Responsibility – Taking personal responsibility for your health
The posts will be infused with comments related to my own personal health challenges, along with thoughts on how I handle the chronic illnesses of my husband and daughter.
The goal is to educate one another, so it is my hope that each visitor to this site will feel free to offer their commentary, insights, thoughts, and comments. If you have success in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, please share!! Are there barriers that currently impact your health?? This forum may enable us to find solutions together. So please tune in each week and comment freely. My only request is that posted comments remain respectful and profanity-free.
Thank you in advance for your participation. I pray that 2013 is a great year of exploration for each and every one of us!!
One Drop of Knowledge Can Ripple through an Entire Community.