Category Archives: New Connections

Jul 29 2014
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Childhood Trauma: A Public Health Problem that Requires a Robust Response

Cindy A. Crusto, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee, an associate professor of psychology in psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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Were the findings really a surprise? The recent release of the report The Burden of Stress in America commissioned by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health, highlights the major role that stress plays in the health and well-being of American adults. As a researcher who studies the impact of emotional or psychological trauma on children’s health, I immediately thought about the findings in the context of trauma and the associated stress in the lives of children. That trauma can include violence in the home, school, and community.

Two decades of research has produced clear findings on this significant public health problem: Psychological trauma can have a powerful influence in the lives of children, and if not detected and addressed early, it can (and often does) have long-lasting physical and mental health effects into adulthood. Despite this strong evidence, I have encountered the sheer resistance of some advocates who work with or on behalf of vulnerable children to fully engage in this topic. Perhaps it’s because of the belief that this talk about trauma is a fad—a hot topic that will fade as soon as something “sexier” comes along.

There is also a concern that an emphasis on trauma further stigmatizes children and the cultural groups to which they belong, reinforcing existing negative stereotypes. You can understand their caution that children’s trauma histories could be used against them, that children might automatically be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, or that they would be seen as a danger to society and in need of the highest, most restrictive level of care. That care often takes children away from their families to secure facilities outside of their communities and even outside of their states.

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Jul 28 2014
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What Protects Our Children from the Effects of Stress?

Lorraine McKelvey, PhD, is an associate professor of family and preventive medicine and pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections program (2008-2009) whose work focuses on vulnerable populations.

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For children, stress can come from sources inside and outside the family. It was recently documented that nearly two out of every three children in the United States have witnessed or been victims of violence in their homes, schools, or communities. That’s a staggering statistic when we consider the well-established link between children’s exposure to stress and their long-term mental and physical health outcomes.

Indeed, we know that early exposure to adverse experiences can change the way that our brains develop and function. We also know that exposure to adversity increases the likelihood that children will develop psychosocial problems, like depression, aggression, and other antisocial behaviors. There is even evidence that exposure to stressors in childhood increases the likelihood of having heart disease and cancer in adulthood!

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Jul 23 2014
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Facebook: Friend or Foe?

Linda Charmaraman is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and a former National Institute of Child Health and Human Development postdoctoral scholar. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee, examining the potential of social media networks to promote resiliency in vulnerable populations.

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If you were stressed out and wanted to vent to your friends about it, how would you let them know? Would you pick up the phone and talk, or text? Would you set up time to grab coffee or go for a brisk walk? Or would you post to Facebook why your day just couldn’t get any worse?

As I logged into the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard School of Public Health-sponsored Stress in America discussion, I identified with the panelists who were dispelling stereotypes about “highly stressed” individuals being high-level executives or those at the top of the ladder. Instead of finding work-related stress as a top concern, as is often played out in the media and popular culture, the researchers were finding that individuals with health concerns, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals were experiencing the highest levels of stress. The panelists talked about the importance of qualities like resiliency and the ability to turn multiple, competing stressors into productive challenges to overcome, and the integral role of communities in shaping, buffering, and/or exacerbating stress.

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Jun 12 2014
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New Connections: Offering Grants, Opportunities, and a Dynamic Network

Catherine Malone, DBA, MBA, is a program associate working with the Disparities Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).  

I am so excited to share this infographic for New Connections: Increasing Diversity of RWJF Programming, which illustrates the grants component of the program and its impact. New Connections provides research grants and career development opportunities for researchers of diverse backgrounds, while expanding the perspectives that inform Robert Wood Johnson Foundation programming. To date, 115 scholars, spanning seven cohorts, have received research grants coupled with services related to career development through the program. These scholars are junior investigators and mid-career professionals from low-income communities, groups that have been historically underrepresented in research disciplines, and those who are the first in their families to graduate college.

But that is just part of the program. What makes New Connections so unique is the program’s diverse network of more than 1,300 scholars—which includes grantees and alumni, in addition to 1,200 scholars who have not received grant funding through the program. The New Connections Network includes scholars who are eligible for the program and have either (1) applied for a grant and/or (2) participated in one of the career development activities offered by New Connections, such as a major training event, regional meeting, or webinar. The Network’s career development opportunities include methodological training, manuscript and grant writing workshops, and leadership development coaching. 

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Apr 29 2014
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How to Advance Minority Health? A Diverse, Culturally Competent Health Care Workforce.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Michelle L. Odlum, BSN, MPH, EdD, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University School of Nursing, responds to the question, “Minority health is advanced by combating disparities and promoting diversity. How do these two goals overlap?” Odlum has more than ten years of experience as a disparities researcher. She is a recipient of an RWJF New Connections Junior Investigator award.

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As a health disparities researcher, my health promotion and disease prevention efforts are rooted in sociocultural aspects of health. This approach is critical to improved outcomes. In fact, when socioeconomic factors are equalized, race, ethnicity, and culture remain contributing factors to adverse minority health. I have come to understand that the key to combating health disparities lies heavily in cultural understanding. A diverse, culturally competent health care workforce is essential to health equity.

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Apr 25 2014
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How to Advance Minority Health? Our Educational Systems Can Help.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Janet Chang, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., responds to the question, “Minority health is advanced by combating disparities and promoting diversity. How do these two goals overlap?” Chang is an alumna of the RWJF New Connections Program; she studies sociocultural influences on social support, help-seeking, and psychological functioning among diverse ethnic/racial groups.

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Given the rapidly changing demographic landscape, ethnic/racial minorities will constitute the majority of the U.S. population by 2043 (U.S. Census, 2010). This inevitable shift to a majority-minority population has far-reaching implications for our society. The future of the United States will largely be determined by how we address growing disparities in income distribution, health care, and health outcomes. Yet, frank discussions about disparities and diversity lag behind the rapid population growth of ethnic/racial minority groups. In this respect, educational systems play a pivotal role in facilitating and shaping the dialogue about diversity. By promoting diversity, we can combat health disparities and advance minority health.

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Jan 23 2014
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Focus on Health to End Poverty

Janice Johnson Dias, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections alumnus (2008) and president of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, a health advocacy that develops and scales community health initiatives for women and girls. She is a graduate of Brandeis and Temple universities and a newly tenured faculty member in the sociology department at City University of New York/John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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Policy action and discussion this month have focused on poverty, sparked by the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and Dr. King’s birthday. Though LBJ and King disagreed about the Vietnam War, they shared a commitment to ending poverty. Half a century ago, President Johnson introduced initiatives to improve the education, health, skills, jobs, and access to economic resources for the poor. Meanwhile, Dr. King tackled poverty through the “economic bill of rights” and the Poor People's Campaign. Both their efforts focused largely on employment.

Where is health in these and other anti-poverty efforts?

The answer seems simple: nowhere and everywhere. Health continues to play only a supportive role in the anti-poverty show. That's a mistake in our efforts to end poverty. It was an error in 1964 and 1968, and it remains an error today.

Let us consider the role of health in education and employment, the two clear stars of anti-poverty demonstrations. Research shows that having health challenges prevents the poor from gaining full access to education and employment. Sick children perform more poorly in schools. Parents with ill children work fewer hours, and therefore earn less. Health care costs can sink families deeper into debt.

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Jan 22 2014
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Overcoming Health Disparities: Promoting Justice and Compassion

By Janet Chang, PhD, an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections Program and an assistant professor of psychology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Chang received a PhD from the University of California, Davis, and a BA from Swarthmore College. She studies sociocultural influences on social support, help seeking, and psychological functioning among diverse ethnic/racial groups. Her RWJF-funded research project (2009 – 2012) examined the relationship between social networks and mental health among Latinos and Asian Americans.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is well known for his fight against racial injustice, but he also advocated for socioeconomic justice. In particular, Dr. King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane” (Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, March 25, 1966). His profound words still resonate with us today.

While strides have been made in the past several decades, there continues to be inequality and unequal treatment. In 1978, the President’s commission reported ethnic/racial disparities in health services, and this is still a vexing societal problem in the United States. Compared to non-minorities, American Indians, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, and other ethnic/racial minorities are significantly less likely to receive the care that they need and more likely to receive lower quality health care. Ultimately, these disparities compromise the quality of life of most Americans.

The factors that contribute to heath disparities are complex. As a social-cultural psychologist, I also believe that our tolerance for injustice stems in part from larger cultural forces that shape our psychological tendencies, which simplify our world and constrain our ability to take the perspective of others. In the United States, the cultural values that make our society distinctive, independent, and strong may also serve to limit our potential for greater growth—a healthier, happier, and more productive society. 

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Nov 8 2013
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Lessons from Around the World at the APHA Annual Meeting

Michelle L. Odlum, BSN, MPH, EdD, is postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University School of Nursing in nursing informatics. She has more than ten years of experience as a disparities researcher working on a variety of research, evaluation, and health promotion initiatives affecting vulnerable populations. Odlum is a recent recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) New Connections Junior Investigator award. 

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At this time when our nation’s health care reform is promoting new approaches to primary care, an exploration of health care models from around the globe is essential. With my interest in the transformative role of nursing care, I decided to attend the scientific session [at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting] entitled: Think Global, Act Local: Best Practices Around the World.  Panelists presented on a variety of interesting care models from Europe to Central America.

As we explore initiatives to improve care coordination, it was interesting to hear Erin Maughan, RN, PhD, APHN-BC, an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellow, talk about Scotland’s care coordination approach to children’s health. Maughan discussed home visitors, who provide care to children from birth to five years of age. An important aspect of the relationship forged with children and families is to allow for early identification of developmental needs, thus allowing for timely utilization of resources and services to address these needs. Interestingly, to support effective care outcomes for children with chronic illnesses over the age of five, each family is assigned a district nurse who is a chronic disease specialist.   

Scotland has also coordinated health forms utilized by police, schools, and health care facilities; this is a team-centered approach for identifying and working with at-risk children. Scotland’s pediatric care model demonstrates the effective utilization of public health nurses and the implementation of inter-agency care coordination. We, as a nation, can certainly benefit from further understanding of these approaches. 

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Oct 3 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: The Tour for Diversity in Medicine, the cost of food allergies, peer navigators for patients with mental illness, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

The Tour for Diversity in Medicine, founded in part by RWJF Summer Medical and Dental Education Program alumnus Alden Landry, MD, MPH, recently made a stop at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, the Washington Post reports. The Tour is a grassroots effort to educate, inspire, and cultivate students who are underrepresented in the nation’s medical and dental schools by reaching out to them on the nation’s college campuses. Learn more about the Tour for Diversity here and here.

Peter Ubel, MD, an alumnus of the RWJF Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars program and a recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, was a guest on Marketplace radio to talk about the effect of advertisements about the Affordable Care Act. Read a post Ubel wrote for the RWJF Human Capital Blog about the health care law.

Childhood food allergies are costing the United States an estimated $24.8 billion every year—mostly due to costs that are not direct medical care—according to a study led by RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars alumna Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH. The study also asked parents what they would be willing to pay to make their child’s food allergy disappear overnight, Huffington Post reports. The average answer was $3,504 per year—close to the $3,457 average annual per family cost of managing a food allergy. Read a post Gupta wrote about her research for the RWJF Human Capital Blog.

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