By David Robinson
UAMS scientists need diversity in their research, but there’s a problem. African-Americans and other minority groups too often don’t participate.
That may be about to change, at least on a small scale.
UAMS’ Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., and her colleagues are leading a new research project that employs “community health connectors” – trusted leaders within the community – to connect people to needed health resources and opportunities to participate in research.
In the field for only one month, Amanda Smith, a former AmeriCorps volunteer, credit counselor and fitness instructor, said she is already experiencing the rewards of helping people in need.
A graduate of Pine Bluff High School and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, she is joined by two other community health connectors. They work under the guidance of Mary Olson, a doctor of ministry and the project’s community principal investigator.
“We conduct community forums so the citizens can tell us what’s important, rather than we or researchers making assumptions about their needs without asking,” Smith said.
The community health connectors are finding enthusiasm about UAMS and its research, she said.
“We see a lot of positive attitudes and feedback during the forums,” Smith said. “Sometimes people may have a closed mind about research, but once you actually educate people about it then they open their minds. You just have to let people know the valuable benefits of research to them and to everyone else.”
Stewart and Olson hope the National Institutes of Health-funded project can become a national model.
“UAMS is expert in research and medicine, and our community health connectors are experts in the life of the community,” Olson said. “Together you have a whole that we believe can find the ways to reduce health disparities.”