By Wendy S. Meyer
As I grabbed one of the last available seats in the Fulginiti Pavilion, I settled in to hear Stephen Thomas, PhD, deliver the keynote address for the eighth annual CCTSI Research Ethics Conference. When I heard him declare, “If we are gonna count it, collect it, research it, we’d better do something about it!” I knew this research ethics conference would be memorable.
Thomas, a professor from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health and Director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, delivered a powerful message about community engaged research and how it can be used to eliminate health disparities. The entire conference was devoted to addressing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in research and how to address ethical and logistical challenges. Thomas talked about the need to build trust between minorities and researchers and featured several examples of research that also sought to solve problems of health disparities.
He used the infamous Tuskegee study to highlight the fact that researchers, “…need to move toward atonement.” Thomas said that researchers must build trust in the communities in which they conduct research, “When you are stirred that something is wrong, you can’t just sit on that. Those most vulnerable members of our community are counting on you to have an ethical compass to stand up to power when things are wrong,” Thomas said.
He shared several examples of research that works to end health disparities, including the Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) initiative. The community-based intervention takes place in barbershops in African-American communities in and around Washington, DC, and it trains barbers and stylists to talk to clients about colon cancer screenings, leveraging them as trusted voices in the community.
Thomas also featured an initiative called the Mission of Mercy & Health Equity Festival. In this one-day event, the University of Maryland and several partner agencies transformed a basketball arena into a dental clinic with 200 chairs; more than 1,800 health professional volunteers staffed the event. The demand was so great that people slept outside in a line that snaked around the block just to get in. In one day, nearly 1,000 people received care, including receiving free dental exams, or cavity fillings, root canals, flu shots and more. The event delivered $1.5 million in free care.
Clinical Research Coordinator Jose Barron was one of the nearly 140 who attended the CCTSI conference. He says he came because of his interest in doing research that would help Colorado’s underserved. “Doing community based research, and involving the community of interest in the design and implementation was one of the biggest take home messages for me,” Barron said. “Not only does this strategy create more inclusive research, it also strengthens outcomes and creates impactful and meaningful changes in the communities that need it the most.”
The daylong conference also featured two panels on the topics of “What can researchers to do address disparities” and “Building Productive teams to address disparities.” Marilyn Coors, PhD, organizes and moderates the event each year. She is also the director of research ethics for the CCTSI.
Marilyn Coors, PhD with Stephen Thomas, PhD.