Category Archives: Project L/EARN

Oct 31 2014
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An Anthropological Approach to Medicine

Theresa Yera is a senior at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. A project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University, Project L/EARN is a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education.

Theresa Yera

When I applied to the 2014 Project L/EARN cohort, I was seeking exposure to anthropological research that would lead me into a career of public health service. I wanted to pursue L/EARN because of my strong interest in anthropology and medicine. My previous experience in health care included studying for the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) examinations, volunteering as a Campus Health Educator (CHE), and participating in qualitative and quantitative research projects for almost three years.

The training as an EMT introduced me to patient and health care provider interaction and raised questions on streamlining the process. It also trained me to think critically and quickly, sharpen my leadership skills, and develop interview questions. Patients complained of many chronic and acute health problems that stemmed from their health behaviors and environment. The CHE initiative led me to value a community approach for health problems. In CHE, I worked to end racial disparities in organ donation and increase awareness of the need for organ donation and a healthy lifestyle. I met many individuals with personal stories that explained why they either did or did not want to donate.

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Oct 27 2014
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Eight Peers, One Family

Swet Patel is a sophomore at the College of New Jersey, majoring in psychology. He is a graduate of Project L/EARN, a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.  

Swet Patel

On May 27, 2014, I finally ended my teens and entered my 20s. But I will forever remember this date as more than just my birthday. This was the first day of Project L/EARN.

Like my peers entering the program, I expected to gain research exposure that would be a great résumé booster. Little did I know I would gain so much more than just research experience. Although the 10-week program was intensive, and at some points it made me question why I was doing it, I never imagined I would be able to achieve so much in such a short period of time. I realized after seeing the fruits of my labor—the poster, the oral presentation, and the paper—that this program was beyond worth it.

Project L/EARN boosted my confidence. I actually feel like a researcher. And it was truly remarkable that I was able to meet such diverse individuals from a wide range of fields during the guest lecture series. I learned a great deal from these esteemed professionals regarding the different aspects of health care. The networking the program provided gave me lifelong relationships that I will forever cherish.

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Oct 20 2014
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Thoughts on Mentoring

For 23 years, Project L/EARN has created stronger candidates for admission to graduate programs. The intensive, 10-week summer internship provides training, experience, and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University. In this post, interns and mentors share their insights on the value of mentoring in general, and on Project L/EARN in particular. For more, check out an accompanying Infographic: Project L/EARN: Milestones.

“Project L/EARN mentoring has been incredibly instrumental in my career path and has contributed greatly to my professional success. The program was my first major introduction to research, and helped me to apply and reinforce research methods and statistical analysis skills throughout my undergraduate and graduate years.” — Anuli Uzoaru Njoku, MPH, DrPH, post-doctoral fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center, 1999 Intern

“Mentoring means allowing me to experience how someone else sees me—someone who believes in me and sees my potential, someone who can set my sights higher and in the right direction.” — Tamarie Macon, MS, PhD in progress, University of Michigan, 2006 Intern

“Project L/EARN mentoring, then and now, has been the difference between the summer program being a one-time experience, and the beginning of an educational and professional career that will undoubtedly contribute to the story of my life. The mentoring was the avenue by which my truest potential, of which I had no real awareness, was discovered and cultivated. That cultivation has resulted, and is still resulting, in opportunities and accomplishments that are beyond my imagination.” — David Fakunle, PhD in progress, Johns Hopkins University, 2008 Intern

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Sep 2 2014
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Engaging a New Generation of Health Disparities Researchers

Theresa Simpson, BS, is a 2003 alumna and acting assistant director of Project L/EARN, and a doctoral student at the Rutgers Department of Sociology. Dawne Mouzon, PhD, MPH, MA, is a 1998 alumna and former course instructor for Project L/EARN, and an assistant professor at Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.

Theresa Simpson Theresa Simpson

When we began co-teaching Project L/EARN in the summer of 2006, health disparities was gaining momentum as a field.

At the time, we were both Project L/EARN alumni who shared a background in public health. We were becoming increasingly immersed in disparities through our graduate studies in the health, population and life course concentration of the sociology doctoral program at Rutgers University. 

Dawne Mouzon Dawne Mouzon

Directly as a result of that coursework, we began significantly expanding the Project L/EARN curriculum in the area of health disparities. Now, every summer, we hit the ground running the opening week of the program.

In the first lecture, an overview of the field of health disparities, Dawne introduces various theoretical frameworks for studying health disparities, followed by data on the social demography on various race/ethnic groups. She concludes with a series of charts and graphs showing race/ethnic, gender and socioeconomic status (SES) inequities in the epidemiology of health and illness. 

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Aug 15 2014
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Mentoring to Build a Culture of Health

Adefemi Betiku was a junior at Rutgers University when he noticed that he wasn’t like the other students.

During a physics class, he raised his hand to answer a question. “Something told me to look around the lab,” he remembers. “When I did, I realized that I was the only black male in the room.”

In fact, he was one of the few black men in his entire junior class of 300.

“There’s a huge problem with black males getting into higher education,” says Betiku, currently a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student at New York University (NYU). “That has a lot to do not just with being marginalized but with how black men perceive themselves and their role in society.”

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that black men represent 7.9 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in America but only 2.8 percent of undergraduates at public flagship universities. According to the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of black female high school graduates in 2012 enrolled in college by October of that year. For black male high school graduates, the college participation rate was 57 percent—a gap of 12 percent.

Betiku’s interest in the issues black men face, especially in education, deepened at Project L/EARN, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded initiative with the goal of increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups in the fields of health, mental health and health policy research.

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Jun 4 2014
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The Effect of Cultural Stereotypes on Mental and Public Health

Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces graduated from the University of Puerto Rico–Rio Piedras, where he studied cross-cultural differences in suicidality. He is currently a graduate student in the University of Pennsylvania clinical psychology PhD program. Lorenzo-Luaces is an alumnus of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.

Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces

The population of groups referred to as “minority” is growing at a faster rate in this country than Caucasians, with estimates suggesting that by 2060, 57 percent of the U.S. population will be non-White. This demographic shift could create a public health concern if racial/ethnic minorities remain underrepresented in mental health research. At present, these populations are less likely to receive mental health care than Whites. When they do receive care, it is usually of lesser quality.

Stereotypes among racial/ethnic minority communities regarding mental health are complex. Research suggests that they tend to have more negative beliefs about mental illnesses than White communities; for example, they are more likely to believe that mental illnesses occur due to factors outside of the individual’s control (e.g., spiritual or environmental reasons). However, despite generally holding more negative views about mental illnesses, research shows that racial/ethnic minorities tend to have less punitive attitudes about the mentally ill. Moreover, they tend to be more accepting about mental health treatments, although they express a clear preference for psychological services over medications.

Differences in access to care, rather than attitudes, likely explain the racial/ethnic gap in service use. Besides the obvious discrepancies in socioeconomic status (SES) between Caucasians and racial/ethnic minorities, the latter’s preference for psychological services may be one barrier to access. This is because, even among the insured, psychological services are more expensive in the short term and harder to access than psychotropic medications. There also are questions as to whether psychological interventions tested largely on White populations are effective for minorities. 

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May 21 2014
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Communities of Color and Mental Health

David Fakunle, BA, is a first-year doctoral student in the mental health department of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is an alumnus of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

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It is always interesting to speak with my relatives when an egregious act of violence occurs, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December 2012. They are always so disheartened about the mindset of an individual who can perpetrate such a horrible act. When I mentioned that this particular perpetrator, Adam Lanza, suffered from considerable mental disorder including possible undiagnosed schizophrenia, the response was something to the effect of, “Okay, so he was crazy.”

That’s it. He was crazy. I love my family dearly, but it saddens me as to how misinformed some of my relatives are about mental health. Notice that I say “misinformed” as opposed to “ignorant” because to me, being ignorant means you are willingly disregarding the information provided to you. But that is the issue: communities of color, in many cases, are not well-informed, if informed at all, about mental health. That is what drives the negative stereotypes that are highly prevalent within communities of color.

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May 20 2014
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The Culture of Mental Health Stigma in Communities of Color

Ayorkor Gaba, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and project manager at the Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, as well as a clinical supervisor at the Rutgers Psychological Clinic. She has a private practice in Highland Park, New Jersey and is an American Psychological Association-appointed representative to the United Nations. She is an alumna of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

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Mental illness affects one in five adults in America. A disproportionately high burden of disability from mental disorders exists in communities of color. Research has shown that this higher burden does not arise from a greater prevalence or severity of illnesses in these communities, but stems from individuals in these communities being less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for their mental illnesses, having less access to and availability of mental health services, receiving less care, and experiencing poorer quality of care. Even after controlling for factors such as health insurance and socioeconomic status, ethnic minority groups still have a higher unmet mental health need than non-Hispanic Whites (Broman, 2012).  

There are a number of factors driving these statistics in our communities, including attitudes, lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services, distrust, stigma, and more. In our society all racial groups report mental health stigma, but culturally bound stigma may have a differential impact on communities of color. Stigma has been described as a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses (President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003).  Stigma in the general public often leads to internalized stigma at the individual level.  Several studies have shown that internalized stigma is an important mechanism decreasing the willingness to seek mental health treatment.

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Mar 26 2014
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Where Evidence Meets Policy—and Politics

Annik Sorhaindo, MSc, is a senior program researcher with the Population Council’s Reproductive Health Program in Mexico. A 1997 alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Project L/EARN initiative, she conducts research to provide evidence that helps inform government policy. This post reports on her work.

Fifty-five percent of all pregnancies in Mexico are unplanned.

That dramatic statistic, from a report by the Guttmacher Institute, can be mapped to the limited access women have to contraception.

“Many women can’t readily obtain contraceptive methods,” says Annik Sorhaindo. As part of a five-organization alliance working to improve reproductive health in the world’s 11th most populous country, the council directs research and analysis for the effort.

“My work focuses on answering research questions: Which occurrences in daily life impact women’s decisions about contraception? What are the impediments to preventing teen pregnancy? What are the challenges to using contraception post-abortion?”

Sorhaindo is quick to note that the council stays above the political fray. “We do the research and interpret the results, and the advocacy organizations address the politics,” she says.

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Jun 17 2013
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Life-Changing Fellowship Spurred Me to Pursue Advanced Nursing Degree

Imani Baker is an alumna of Project L/EARN, a graduate education preparation program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). She recently earned her bachelor’s degree in public health from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and plans to become a nurse practitioner.

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The two words that I can use to describe my journey through Project L/EARN are: life changing. 

I learned about the RWJF-funded program from an advisor who referred me to its faculty program director, Jane Miller, PhD. Dr. Miller warned me that the program would be “intense” and “much more work than you are used to.”

However, there are no words that could have ever prepared me for what I was about to experience that summer. Before I was admitted to Project L/EARN, I was not confident in my abilities to compete outside of my comfort zone, which included subjects specifically related to the health sciences.

This program forced me to face many of my weaknesses and confront my worst fears head on. Each day, I was overwhelmed with self-doubt. I was not the best public speaker; I struggled in statistics; and there were times when I questioned why I was picked for the program.

I said to myself, “I want to be a nurse. I don’t want to sit behind a computer and look at numbers all day. What did I get myself into?” However, my mentor, Dr. Judith Lucas, EdD, RN, GCNS-BC, taught me why it was so important for nurses to be involved in research and to have advanced graduate degrees.

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