SMU Students Help Combat Health Problems in the Hispanic/Latino Community

Appeared in: Nurse Together

Published on: 01/09/12

Roughly 41.3 million people in the United States today are Hispanic, or one in every seven people. Hispanic/Latinos represent the second-largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States. Diabetes is an urgent health problem in the Hispanic/Latino community in that rates of diabetes are almost double those of non-hispanic whites.

As many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to a 2006 National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) report, more than 1.5 million Hispanic/Latinos had diabetes, up from 1.2 million in 1997.  As high as the rate of diabetes appears, it doesn't include undiagnosed cases. 

"These are alarming numbers that show how critical it is to change the course of type 2 diabetes," said Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation. "Successful programs to improve lifestyle choices on healthy eating and physical activity must be made more widely available, because the stakes are too high and the personal toll too devastating to fail."

To help increase diabetes awareness in the Hispanic/Latino community, four nursing students from the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) organized two free diabetes workshops at the Davis Street Family Resource Center in San Leandro. The bi-lingual classes, taught in English and in Spanish by the nursing students, included educational topics such as how to manage diabetes and plan more nutritious meals. The nursing students also discussed facts and myths about diabetes; for example how to manage blood sugar and conditions that affect blood sugar rates. Cooking and exercise demonstrations were also available.

According to FNP student Suzanne Portnoy, the bi-lingual workshops were created to educate and improve the glycemic control and self-management skills in the Hispanic/Latino community and promote better health through a series of face-to-face sessions for those who suffer from the chronic disease.

"Being told you have diabetes can leave you with a lot of questions," explains Portnoy. "The workshops encourage patients to relate what they learn to their own experiences and make plans to put that learning to work in their everyday lives."

For the past three years SMU and the Davis Street Family Resource, a private non-profit organization, have been bringing primary medical services to uninsured and underinsured children and adults. This innovative collaboration enables local residents to receive basic medical care at low cost. Offering the diabetes classes at the Family Resource Center was an effective way to reach out to an underserved population.

"When we are working at the Family Resource Clinic, we see a lot of people with the complications associated with diabetes, and in some of the other clinics I've seen young people coming in with amputations," explains FNP student Veena Jagajeevan. "I personally believe diabetes is one of those things that if it's managed well then you can avoid complications."

Maria Duncas, from Castro Valley, says she came to the free educational workshop because as a Latino woman she wants to control her diabetes and prove to her growing family that it is possible to reverse the effects of diabetes. "I think a program like this is important because it supports the community and the people that want to learn about how to take better care of themselves."  Maria says she found the speakers to be very professional. "I thought they were very knowledgeable and had no clue that they were students, which made the experience even better."

"Prevention and early diagnosis are keys to longevity," said Michael DeRosa, Chair of the Master of Physician Assistant program at Samuel Merritt University and faculty supervisor of the diabetes workshop program.  "Diabetes is a disease which is clearly rooted in lifestyle. Unfortunately those withless access to healthcare are also more likely to have the lifestyle considerations of poor diet and lack of physical activity that lead to the disease. The hope is that providing education about these lifestyle issues in a culturally competent way can reduce long term healthcare costs and improve quality of life."

Alberto Hernandez, FNP student, has also found that understanding the importance of cultural identity in the Hispanic/Latino community has given him an appreciation for other cultures and languages. "Knowing my culture makes me appreciate others," he says. "This is good practice because as nurse practitioners we're practically the frontline primary care providers and we really do a lot of education for our patients, so these types of educational programs are perfect for us as students to learn from as well."


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