Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Michener and colleagues1 provide important guidance for academic health centers (AHCs) in building community-engaged research (CEnR) programs. One of five steps they propose for advancing community engagement is building a sustainable network of CEnR researchers. Below, we elaborate on that step from our experience as two current fellows and an instructor participating in a two-year academic fellowship in primary care research that includes CEnR training at our AHC.
We have learned that fellows in particular benefit from three program components: diversity, instruction by community partners, and collaborative problem solving. Recruiting fellows with diverse backgrounds in primary care and academics (including related social science fields) provides fellows with a broader base of resources for creating and sustaining CEnR relationships. Bringing community partners to the classroom to instruct and engage fellows in hands-on learning exercises provides fellows with important insights into community perspectives of CEnR. Dedicating time to confidentially discuss individual research challenges as a fellowship cohort and then collaboratively identifying strategies for resolving CEnR research challenges have been critical for project success and bolstering enthusiasm.
Incorporating CEnR skill training in our program is having positive outcomes. Current fellows and graduates are active and engaged members of their respective departments and institutions, clarifying CEnR roles while advancing support and recognition for CEnR projects. For example, they are forming collaborative CEnR relationships with researchers from diverse academic backgrounds to assess the impact of social context on patient compliance and health outcomes. They are committed to creating CEnR relationships with community partners as co-collaborators. Drawing on the diverse reach of our fellows, we benefit from broad institutional and community collaborations resulting in disseminated products, grants, and improved community health.
As health professions training programs realign to match known and emerging community needs, optimal design of researcher preparation programs must keep pace. Academic fellowships represent a significant part of the training pipeline that Michener and colleagues refer to, and our experience indicates positive outcomes from diverse fellow selection, instruction by community partners, and a curriculum that supports a safe atmosphere for collaborative problem solving.
Lisa Bradford, PhD, MA
Instructor/fellow, Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina E. Eldredge, MD
Instructor/fellow, Department of Family and Community Health, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Jeffrey A. Morzinski, PhD, MSW
Associate professor and director, Professional Development Division, Department of Family and Community Health, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1. Michener L, Cook J, Ahmed SM, Yonas MA, Coyne-Beasley T, Aguilar-Gaxiola S. Aligning the goals of community-engaged research: Why and how academic health centers can successfully engage with communities to improve health. Acad Med. 2012;87:285–291