Bridging Clinical Scholarship and Community Scholarship

New Directions for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Clinical Scholars Program

As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars gather for their 2009 meeting, this year’s sessions will highlight the potential impact of a collection of 14 Clinical Scholar studies that were conducted as Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). “The publication of the articles in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [published online in November] is the result of our effort to work with a major medical journal to make CBPR more accessible to mainstream academic researchers and clinicians that it has been in the past,” said Desmond K.Runyan, M. D., Dr.PH., national director of the Clinical Scholars’ program and a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina.

While all the studies in the supplement show the unique value of involving the people who are actually the subjects of the research in the formation of research questions and processes, one of the studies “uncovered remarkable issues and led to dramatic changes in the community studied,” Runyan said.

Lead researcher and Clinical Scholar (2005-2007) Benjamin Springgate, M. D., M.P.H. and his team produced “Rapid Community Participatory Assessment of Health Care in Post-Storm New Orleans.” They found that “a rapid, community-based participatory assessment provided new information on diverse community members’ concerns and priorities and produced a sustainable community–academic partnership dedicated to improving both access to care and the public’s health following this major disaster.” The scholars will be updated on the re-building of the New Orleans health care infrastructure during their November meeting by Lt. General Russel L. Honoré.

Another study receiving attention is “Building Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships with a Somali Refugee Community” by Clinical Scholar Crista E. Johnson, M.D.

Across the board, the CBPR model has shown that “when community members better understand the research and the process the researchers go through, it’s a two-way exchange that works to change health behaviors and bring resources to the problem being studied by giving it greater visibility,” Runyan said. “We’re hoping to bring about a change in how CBPR is viewed among people in academic medical science that is analogous to the change the Clinical Scholars brought about for Health Services Research,” he said.

The CBPR concept is based in recognizing the importance of the participation of patients or community members when examining health issues or forming clinical trials, as well as the value of helping study participants adapt research findings in their own health behaviors.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program trains physician scientists to collaborate with the lay public and learn the requisite skills of conducting Community-Based Participatory Research in addition to health policy, and health services research.

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