MUSC The Catalyst
MUSC arial view


MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants Catalyst PDF File MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause

MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


Community-based partnerships
Research leaves the laboratory

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
Getting some Hollywood residents to understand the value of getting regular dental check-ups is like pulling teeth.
Finding out why some Hollywood residents would rather forego dental care and risk later emergency dental extraction is one of the passions that drives Beth Carpenter, mayor’s assistant for Hollywood, to work with researchers at MUSC.
Beth Carpenter

Carpenter said she’s excited to partner with MUSC’s Community Engaged Scholars Program in hopes of improving dental health care in her area. It’s one reason she volunteered to be in the community-based participatory research (CBPR) program, even though it means hours of unpaid time on her part and that she has to learn new research skills, she  said.
“This is all new to me. I keep coming to the classes and doing what I need to be doing. It’s been a learning experience the whole way, but I love the way we’re reaching out to the community and getting their input, which is important. Sometimes Hollywood gets forgotten out there.”
Dr. Renata Leite

Renata S. Leite, DDS, and assistant professor in MUSC’s Division of Periodontics, said she loves it too. She discovered she wanted to get out of the laboratory and into the community, where she feels a more meaningful connection to what she’s studying. The team has the support of Hollywood Mayor Jacquelyn S. Heyward, who has allowed Carpenter to make it a priority as part of her job. Carpenter has made it much easier to quickly establish a rapport with the community, which includes a thriving Gullah population.
The project, overseen by MUSC’s Center for Community Health Partnerships, began in August 2009. Leite’s study is one of six pilot projects. The program provides training, pilot funds and mentorship for teams consisting of an academic and community partner who are willing to do CBPR.
Leite said she has realized how effective CBPR can be. “It’s different from conventional research. You’re still collecting research, but it also feels like you’re doing some kind of community service. “
It also opens doors of trust, she said. “When they realize that we’re there to listen to their opinion, it makes them more open to whatever we’re going to do later.”
The getting-acquainted period can take some adjustment, said Leite, who recalls being a bit nervous the first time she attended a SUN or Spiritual United Neighbors community meeting where she was out of her element. “I was white, female, with a foreign accent and an academician. I had all the possible barriers I could have. But I had the mayor and Beth there backing me up.”
In the town of Hollywood, located 20 miles south of Charleston and where people call each other by name when passing on the street, that was all Leite needed to be accepted.
Carpenter said it’s critical getting the spiritual leaders in the community on board. Town residents appreciate being asked what barriers they face in getting dental and health care. “There are some warm-hearted people in Hollywood. Once you reach them, they’ll do whatever you need them to do.”
Leite said that has been the case with Carpenter, who has coordinated their community meetings and been a passionate advocate for this type of research in Hollywood. They’ve learned that many residents have had bad dental experiences in the past and some have no mode of  transportation to get to a dental clinic. Leite said the goal is to have a community clinic, where MUSC’s dental students could rotate through to provide more accessible treatment. She also wants to train rural, community leaders to be educators.
Hollywood residents, Sylvia Grant (left) and Wilhelmina Taylor (second from right) meet with Beth Carpenter and Christine Hudson, right. Hudson is mentoring with Dr. Renata Leite.

The CBPR process is a catalyst for other important changes. It’s gotten residents more involved with health care issues beyond dental care and has been an impetus behind the mayor working even harder to get the infrastructure grants to make a community center feasible, said Carpenter.
This impact is empowering for the community and the researchers, said Leite. One aspect of CBPR that she really likes is that researchers have to go back and tell the community what the project’s findings are and provide a sustainable plan with community involvement that addresses those issues. Leite said the program is the beginning of a long-term relationship.
Carpenter agreed. “It’s a big commitment for anyone who’s doing it. If you have a dream to do it, it has to be to benefit the community. A little bit of education goes a long way out there.”

Q & A with Melissa Cox,  program coordinator for the Center for Community Health Partnerships
Melissa Cox

The center received official status February 2008 and is based in the College of Nursing. The first six teams, which launched August 2009, will wrap up projects by December. The teams far exceeded their expectations, she said. The second set of groups is starting now.

What does Center for Community Health Partnerships (CCHP) do?
The center’s goal is to create healthier communities through establishing academic-community partnerships and community-based participatory research.  One project the center oversees is the Community Engaged Scholars Program, which provides training, pilot funds and mentorship for up to six teams consisting of an academic and community partner who have interest in community-based-participatory research (CBPR).

What’s the benefit of community-based participatory research?
It’s about working with the community on this equal-opportunity approach. In order to have long-term sustainable change, the community must be empowered to create solutions to health issues. It’s all about working with these communities. The academic brings the evidence from the literature, the methods, the evaluation. The community brings the expertise of how that’s actually going to work in the community. They bring everything from the shared experiences and cultures to insight into getting to know the community and gaining its trust.

Why is this type of research growing?
What’s exciting about this work is that you have so many people from all the different academic disciplines and so many different areas of the community represented. You have public sector, private sector, faith-based, grass roots in the school system. We get to work with all these different, really fantastic people in the community. It’s all about the co-learning that’s involved in this process. The academic learns as much from the community as the community learns from the academic.

What’s the future of this type of research?
CBPR in the last 15 years has become a hot area of research so we’re seeing our big funders—CDC, Kellogg Foundation, NIH, RWJ—pushing this type of community-based research. We’ve seen a realization in the last few years that we’ve been working on some of these issues for decades and haven’t gotten anywhere. It’s a paradigm shift, if you will, of how we work from inside these communities with the people who live it every day to create change. This type of research is asset-based, so we take the strengths of multiple people together to create a sustainable solution.

Center for Community Health Partnerships teams
1. Unmet health needs of individuals with disabilities in the Tri-county—Participants: Susan Newman, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor in the College of Nursing; Gwen Gillenwater, executive director of the disability Resource Center

2. Importance of Vitamin D as it relates to health status and disease—Participants: Carol Wagner, M.D., professor in pediatrics; Joyce Winkler, Director of Nursing at Eau Claire Community Health Center Cooperative; Carolina Rodriguez Cook, research assistant at Eau Claire Community Health Center Cooperative

3. Periodontal disease prevention in the Gullah community—Participants: Renata S. Leite, DDS, assistant professor in the College of Dental Medicine; Beth Carpenter, mayor’s assistant in Hollywood

4. Improving quality of life for children with severe disabilities in the Lowcountry—Participants: Holly Wise, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Physical Therapy; Cindy Dodds, pediatric physical therapist at Pattison’s Academy

5. Cancer prevention and wellness in the faith-based, African-American    community—Participants: Kristin Wallace and Katherine Sterba, Ph.D.s and assistant professors in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics & Epidemiology; Debbie Bryant, director of outreach services at Hollings Cancer Center; Rev. Remus Harper, pastor of the The Church, Christian Disciples of Christ

6. Youth and community suicide prevention—Participants. Janet York, Ph.D., College of Nursing; and Charlotte Anderson, Trident United Way

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.