By Wendy S. Meyer
If you work in the world of academic research, you’ve likely taken many trainings over the course of your career. How many of those, however, would you describe as “enlightening,” “wonderful” or even “beautiful”?
These are words investigators used to describe their experience in the CCTSI’s Community Engagement Colorado Immersion Training (CIT). This intensive training immerses researchers in a particular community so they can learn about the needs and challenges of that population while they learn how to conduct community-based participatory research.
Anne Lambert-Kerzner, PhD, MSPH, assistant professor in the Colorado School of Public Health, teaches a class on Dissemination and Implementation Science and wanted to learn more about community-based participatory research. She participated in the CIT training last June, focusing on the Asian refugee population, “I just loved the whole program, the whole idea of it; the whole implementation and process.”
CCTSI has been offering this training for more than seven years and provides it at no cost for those who are accepted to the program. Last year, the training sent half the researchers into the urban Latino community and half into the Asian refugee community in Denver. This year, CIT will focus on Colorado’s Rural San Luis Valley and Rural Native American communities.
Lambert-Kerzner said the pre-readings were great and helped her to understand community-based participatory research. She said her group of three researchers got along very well during the weeklong immersion. “I was overwhelmed with the positives and negatives of the experiences of Asian refugees and who they were,” Lambert-Kerzner said. “It was such a beautiful moving, emotional experience for me on so many levels—it was just wonderful.”
Dina Flink, PhD, instructor in the School of Medicine was drawn to the training as a newly-minted PhD who wanted to start engaging in her own research. In the course of her research on young women with cancer, she encountered a 17-year old patient who
refused cancer treatment because of cultural and economic barriers. She says that experience motivated her to participate in CIT in order to, “learn how we can best get patients engaged in their health and to educate them.”
She and her group of five researchers spent the week immersed in the urban Latino community in Southwest Denver and also became very close. She found the experience enlightening and it encouraged her to want to continue to engage in the urban Latino community because she felt her work could make a difference.
Flink and her cohort stayed in touch after the training, and they applied for, and won, a CCTSI Community Engagement Pilot Partnership Development Grant. The award will allow her group to build a partnership with the Federico F. Peña Southwest Family Health Center. If during the course of the development grant, Flink determines her research interests align with the needs of the community, they may together apply together for a CCTSI Community Engagement pilot grant next year.
“The training opened me up to the idea of going outside of the hospital and allowed me to have my own research endeavors within our division,” Flink said. She highly recommends the training for those who want to apply for larger community engagement grants, such as PCORI, and thinks the CIT would give applicants an edge.
Flink says her dream with her research is to continue with the community partnership and do something involving HPV and cervical cancer in the young women’s population, while continuing to serve the investigators and help them with their questions around gynecologic cancers. “I wouldn’t be researching the Latino-specific community without CIT. And I don’t think I could have so quickly found my own research niche without being involved in this program.”
As for Lambert-Kerzner and her group, they just found out they’ve been awarded a PCORI grant for which they applied. The grant will enable them to set up a community based participatory network that will create a format to allow research to be done in the community that is totally community based and that integrates community members and the resources there with university and other researchers who are interested in doing this type of work.
“It [CIT] totally changed my paradigm,” Lambert-Kerzner said. “The process is a much more respectful, integrative and natural because it is understanding from a community perspective what is needed and what is not. Our role is to facilitate, and let community be the lead.”