For the 23rd year, the Public Health Students of African Descent (PHSAD, pronounced ‘facade’) hosted their student-run conference on health disparities. This year’s topic was “Translating Research into Practice”.
Students from across campus joined community members and faculty to learn more about turning public health research into practice. Dr. Phillip Bwoman, Director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity, gave the opening keynote about the idea of cultural protection. He described research that shows that after controlling for various risk factors, there are many areas in which African-Americans are not doing as poorly as people think. The researchers attributed this to the idea of cultural protection, the social support system that has a positive, protective effect on health outcomes. He also cited the PBS movie series that described that third-generation Mexican-Americans have far worse health outcomes than first-generation Mexican-Americans. The premise here is that as the second- and third-generation family members assimilate into mainstream US culture, they eat more poorly and work more hours, leaving little time for physical activity. This contributes to many of the associated chronic conditions that disproportionately affect this community.
It is always impressive to see who presents at the PHSAD conference each year, considering the group hosting it is students and not faculty. My first session was with Zachary Rowe, of Friends of Parkside, a neighborhood group in the Eastside of Detroit. He gave us some simple advice: “make sure research is reality-based”. Research is often done in a strict, controlled environment, where there’s enough funding, staffing, and skills to run the program effectively. Zachary was really supported of community-based participatory research (CBPR), where members of the community paarticipate in the research design, data collection, and evaluation of the research project. U-M happens to be a leader in CBPR, and Zachary has actually participated in many research projects through U-M.
The afternoon keynote was from Dr. Mary Lee of PolicyLInk. Dr. Lee presented after an amazing lunch (that included many vegetarian options!) about how to use research findings to inform policy advocacy and changes. PolicyLink provided many of the materials that were used at the policy advocacy workshop I attended in February. Dr. Lee told us some stories about her work with policy advocacy in Oakland, CA around alcohol-selling stores and fresh produce-selling stores. She also found that involving the community was the way to go: “the most effective solutions come from the people living the problem” is something she mentioned more than once.
The community panel in the afternoon covered a great cross-section of topics, with many questions from students about the intersection of the work of medical and public health professionals. We had representatives from the Detroit Workers for Environmental Justice, Hope Clinic, PolicyLink, and Migrant Health Promotion. Some of the orgs do research in their everyday work, and some just used research to inform their programs. All were discussing the importance of research in their work. It’s good to hear that people use the research that people (including here at U-M) are doing, because it can get tedious reading all these new articles for classes!
Overall, the PHSAD conference was a great way to spend a Saturday. I look forward to going to next year’s conference!