Whether they come for the wit or the wisdom, there’s no place in the black community like the barbershop. One-part mecca for style, one part neighborhood news center, “it’s our country club,” said Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar (2008-2010) Stanley Frencher, M. D., M.P.H. “It’s a place where black men hang out, sit and talk,” said Frencher, a nearly sacred space to generations of African American men. Frencher joined forces with diabetes specialist Bill Releford, D.P.M., to harness the potential of this powerful cultural center to improve the health of African American men around the county.
“Releford’s Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program (BBHOP) has screened more than 10,000 men in cities all over the United States for diabetes and hypertension,” said Frencher, the first Clinical Scholar sponsored by the American College of Surgeons. “I’m working with him to add another component to the program, PEP Talk: the Prostate Education Project.” African American men represent 42 percent of new prostate cancer cases, the highest percentage among all groups.
BBHOP/PEP works by targeting and recruiting community volunteers from foundations, corporations, churches and other groups. “Nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, students and organizations such as the National Black Nurses Association, black fraternities and sororities work with us to provide onsite diabetes, hypertension and now peripheral artery disease screening right in the barbershops,” Frencher explained.
The shop’s casual, comfortable environment makes it easier for men to open up and ask questions about taking better care of themselves, Frencher said, recalling a conversation he had during a screening at the New Millennium Barbershop in Los Angeles. “A gentlemen said to me, ‘I wasn't sure what type of treatment I should have or sure which doctor to trust.’ He was trying to understand what to do about his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test results. After our discussion, he said he felt more comfortable making a decision about treatment.”
“In about 33 percent of cases, we find undiagnosed conditions, so we do all that we can to connect the men with free or low-cost clinics in the each barbershop’s area. We also created the Little Black Book of health care providers and hand it out along with other information,” Frencher said, and all of the materials are directed exclusively to African American men.
In addition to doing a full launch of PEP in Los Angeles in March, BBHOP is planning a fifty-city tour aimed at 25,000 men and a second Men’s Health and Empowerment Summit at the Los Angeles Convention Center in February that will include health education, screening, workshops and clinical services. “We will also be using a film on the pros and cons of prostrate screening as a decision tool for men. It’s designed to be shown in barbershops,” Frencher said.
“BBHOP/PEP is also a model of community-based participatory research at its best. It certainly exemplifies what you can do when you work with other programs and organizations. I could not have designed PEP without what I learned as a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar about leveraging existing community infrastructure—churches and other organizations that want to share responsibility for helping black men stay healthy. Part of what I hope to do is create a more solid structure for the program,” Frencher said. ‘We are also collecting data on hypertension, diabetes and background on what works for this population.”
“Going forward, I think programs like BBHOP will help other physicians to see that we have to extend our reach beyond the walls of our clinics, hospitals and operating rooms into the community to practice medicine effectively,” Frencher said.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program provides training for young physicians interested in research and leadership careers in health policy and academic medicine. Clinical Scholars learn to conduct innovative research and work with communities, organizations, practitioners and policy-makers on issues important to health.