UW ‘boot camp’ addresses health disparties

June 14, 2018 GMT

Olayinka Shiyanbola, an assistant professor in UW-Madison’s School of Pharmacy, is developing programs to encourage black people and veterans who have diabetes to take their medications as prescribed.

“Some do not think their medications are going to help them,” which can contribute to higher heath care costs, Shiyanbola said. “Let’s do something about it, and do it the right way.”

The Madison-area programs illustrate the goal of the Health Equity Leadership Institute, a “boot camp” taking place on campus this week.

The institute, which started in 2010, is sponsored by UW-Madison and the University of Maryland. It aims to boost the number of minority researchers investigating health disparities and health equity.

Shiyanbola participated in the institute four years ago and is returning this week as an instructor, mentoring others in the finer details of grant writing and negotiating tenure-track jobs.

The training is designed for junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented groups in health-care fields, including blacks, Southeast Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. The goal is to help them get faculty positions and federal funding for research.

“Health disparities and health inequity is a major problem for the United States,” said Dorothy Farrar-Edwards, director of the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s Collaborative Center for Healthy Equity. “We’re trying to build the capacity to address these problems.” Ten of the 24 scholars attending this week are from Wisconsin, and three are from Maryland. The others are from several other states.

Topics cover many disciplines, from heart disease in prisoners to opioid abuse prevention in youth, Farrar-Edwards said.

Shiyanbola, who joined the pharmacy faculty at UW-Madison in 2013, said she has three grants from the university and one from the drug company Merck to support her projects.

Over the past two years, she and her colleagues conducted focus groups of black people with diabetes in Madison and Milwaukee to understand why many don’t take their medications.

Some fear side effects, believe the drugs aren’t effective or think they don’t need them. Some said, “I know I got diagnosed, but I feel OK,” according to Shiyanbola.

She is starting a peer ambassador program, or “buddy system,” this summer to pair diabetics who adhere to their medications with those who have doubts or new diagnoses. The program is a collaboration with Madison’s North/Eastside Senior Coalition.

“It’s education and motivation at the same time,” Shiyanbola said.

At Madison’s Veterans Hospital, she is designing a medication counseling program for pharmacists so they can better understand why some veterans with diabetes don’t take their drugs.

She is also working to improve questionnaires that researchers around the country use to assess patients’ perceptions of their illnesses. She hopes to incorporate questions particularly relevant to black people, such as how diabetes or other diseases affect jobs, community activities and the ability to eat traditional foods.

The institute has provided support and direction, Shiyanbola said.

“You don’t just go out into a community and expect you’re going to get feedback,” she said. “You have to learn to navigate a community.”