300 attend library-sponsored symposium

'Action on Health Disparities' spurs examination of medical care in global content

By LaKisha Ladson

UT Southwestern specialists in geriatrics, pediatrics, clinical sciences, emergency medicine, and family and community medicine united recently to host the first public symposium on campus regarding health disparities.

“We brought people together to think broadly about the different social contexts where all that specialized knowledge can work together to care for the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Simon Craddock Lee, assistant professor of clinical sciences and an organizer of the event.

“Action on Health Disparities: Global and Local – A Symposium” attracted more than 300 attendees to UT Southwestern and is part of a growing emphasis on clinical and translational research at the medical center.

“We want to foster perspectives that understand clinical research as part of a broader continuum of science from the bench to the bedside, out to the community and back again,” Dr. Lee said. He added that by sponsoring the symposium, Library administrators also sought to create awareness that the Library is a convener for learning exchange on health and medical science topics.

The event also is in keeping with the strategic planning initiative instituted by Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern, which includes an emphasis on global health and care of the underserved.

“We identified global-health specialists to draw the connections between addressing health disparities here at home, across our region and in the larger world,” Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Podolsky opened the two-day symposium at the Global Health Photo Exhibit, which will remain on display in the Library through June.

Local public leaders, including Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, spoke at the symposium, as did faculty members from Harvard Medical School and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Nora Gimpel, assistant professor of family and community medicine and chief of the division of community medicine, spoke about a four-program pipeline she directs to train medical students and family-medicine residents to improve patient care and reduce health disparities by participating in community research and service learning experiences.

Dr. Gimpel cited national reports stating the need to train doctors in how to educate the public to reduce smoking, obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

“People have been talking about this need for years,” she said. “Community-based, participatory research for doctors is one answer.”

Through the pipeline, which recently won the Innovations in Health Science Education Award from the 
UT Academy of Health Science Education, medical students and residents have partnered with more than 30 community organizations to meet specific health needs.

Dr. Mark DeHaven, adjunct professor of clinical sciences and community engagement key function director for the National Institutes of Health/
National Center for Research Resources Clinical and Translational Sciences Initiative, spoke about a community-based participatory research model he started working on in the 1990s that combines clinical sciences, epidemiology and social sciences to reduce chronic disease and risk factors for disease in underserved communities.

A South Dallas community-based randomized clinical trial, called The GoodNEWS (Genes, Nutrition, Exercise, Wellness and Spiritual Growth), based on this model is under way. The neighborhoods involved in the project are predominantly African-American. When compared with Caucasians, this racial group has 30 percent higher heart disease death rates, 50 percent higher stroke death rates and 100 percent higher diabetes death rates.

Dr. DeHaven modeled his program after health care work he and Dr. Gimpel experienced firsthand in Mexico. He is working with churches in southern Dallas County to improve lifestyles and the social and community factors that contribute to premature death rates.

One factor contributing to poor health outcomes is the lack of access to grocery stores that offer healthy and nutritious food choices. Dr. DeHaven and numerous partners have begun developing a network of neighborhood “community gardens” to allow residents to grow their own produce. Other members of the partnership – known as Healthy Harvest — have recently converted the football field at Paul Quinn College into an urban farm.

Dr. DeHaven and the rest of the GoodNEWS team are collecting follow-up data from the 400 people enrolled in the trial.

“It’s really a thing of beauty to see the community responding,” he said. “It’s no longer exclusively a UT Southwestern team; we all have become a community, and that is exactly what we hoped would happen. We’ve seen people lose a lot of weight and dramatically change their way of living, and we expect to see many other improvements in health because members of the community truly feel a sense of ownership and have developed a desire to live healthier lives.”

Dr. Lee said he hopes the symposium spurs other partnerships like the GoodNEWS program.

“UT Southwestern serves a vital public mission, but it is important to recognize that our patient care, research and education speak to human needs in very different communities,” he said.

Other UT Southwestern speakers included Dr. George Lister, chairman of pediatrics; Dr. Paul Pepe, chief of emergency medicine; Dr. Glenn Flores, professor of pediatrics; and Dr. Ramona Rhodes, assistant professor of internal medicine.

Funding for the event was provided by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine; the Department of Clinical Sciences, through an award from the North and Central Texas Clinical and Translational Science Initiative; and the UT System Global Initiatives Office.
Southern Methodist University, which participated in the planning of the event, also co-sponsored a working dinner to bring together faculty from both campuses.