Director’s Update — November 2014

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of the CTSI.

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of the CTSI.

Below, Nana Bennett discusses the plans for the expansion of the role of the Community Advisory Council, which advises the Center for Community Health and URMC.

Tell me a little bit about the history of the council.

The Center for Community Health was created in 2006, and at that time, we knew we needed a Community Advisory Council (CAC) to help guide the Medical Center on all aspects of community engagement. We knew we needed their advice on how best to approach the community and use best practices to engage the broader community in an effective and meaningful way.

Why is it necessary?

Academic health centers have not always had good reputations in their communities. Sometimes, community members feel like they are being used for academic research — that investigators come into the community, get what they want, and then leave them without any benefits from the research. Communities want researchers to involve them in all phases of research and to work WITH them, rather than give the impression that they are simply doing things TO them.

How is that best accomplished?

The best practice is to involve the community to establish the research priorities that will best meet the needs of the community, and to involve them in meaningful ways on the research team from the development of an idea to the design of the project to dissemination of the research findings. I can’t stress enough how important it is to let the community know: “This is what we learned” and ideally to enhance the capacity of the community through the research.

Why is the expansion happening now, and how is it going to work?

As a result of the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report on the CTSAs, Karl Kieburtz, Harriet Kitzman, and I have been eager to increase community engagement across the spectrum of translational science. So, we approached the CAC and asked that they consider how to have more meaningful involvement in the CTSA.  Recently, the CAC had a retreat during which numerous ideas were discussed re the contributions of the CAC to research at the URMC.  It is likely that a subset of the CAC will meet regularly with CTSI leadership, providing advice and input similar to that provided by the national members of the CTSI External Advisory Committee. In addition to increasing the input of the CAC to the CTSI, we hope that investigators throughout the UR will make use of the community input in developing and implementing their research.  These meaningful relationships will likely improve the quality and relevance of UR research.

Have the members of the CAC embraced the larger role?

Yes, absolutely. We are so impressed by and grateful for the level of commitment that the CAC members bring to this responsibility. The chair of the CAC is Wade Norwood, who serves as the Director of Community Engagement at the FLHSA. Scott Benjamin is the vice chair and President of the Charles Settlement House, and the rest of the council is comprised of very broad representation of community members. These are busy people, and they do this because they think it’s important. They are serious about improving health and eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, and realize that the right community based research can be helpful in this endeavor. They believe that it’s well worth their time to work with the university and tackle these issues together. As we move into an era of increasing population health focus, we need their insights and assistance more than ever.

Previous director’s updates:

October 2014 – Harriet Kitzman discusses the science of team science.
September 2014 – Karl Kieburtz talks about why the CTSI is beefing up its informatics team.
August 2014 – Nana Bennett discusses the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

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