Public Health Sciences — Featured News


Through the Community Research Fellows Training program, founded by Melody Goodman, PhD, members of the community learn to serve as citizen ambassadors for research — advising investigators, educating others in the community and even performing research themselves.

Community ambassadors bridge the gap

As public health researchers work toward their goals of addressing disease prevention and health disparities, among other issues, their work is distinctly tied to the community setting. Yet there is often a communications gap between these researchers and the communities they serve. Melody Goodman, PhD, has made strides in closing that gap through a training program that educates community members about public health sciences — empowering them to advise researchers and even become researchers themselves.

“It’s harder for academics to think about how projects play out in the community because we are all about the science,” says Goodman, a researcher in the Division of Public Health Sciences whose work represents the T4 stage of translational research. “Community members are really good about saying ‘this would be useful to us’ and ‘this is how you get it out to people.’”

Goodman started the Community Research Fellows Training (CRFT) program in 2013. The program — similar to one she piloted in Long Island, New York, before joining Washington University’s faculty — has trained more than 100 fellows in the first three cohorts.

The 45-hour course teaches fellows about institutional review boards and ethical issues and helps them understand the research process. When fellows complete the course, they are better qualified to serve on institutional review boards and research advisory boards. They also act as citizen ambassadors to improve understanding of and participation in research. Fellows in the first cohort could apply for grants to do research of their own.

Goodman is especially proud of fellows who do research themselves. For example, one fellow led a project to better understand the needs of older homeless women. (See sidebar.) Another fellow, 72 at the time, became a presenter for a university fall-prevention program.

Through the CRFT program’s Patient Research Advisory Board, fellows review proposals and give feedback to investigators on community-engaged or community-based research projects.

“They want to make sure that we develop research proposals in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial to the community,” says Goodman.

Program graduate addresses needs of older homeless women


Paulette Sankofa, EdD, pictured here in front of the homeless shelter where she once lived, now studies the needs of older homeless women.

Paulette Sankofa, EdD, a member of the first cohort of graduates in the Community Research Fellows Training (CRFT) program, is changing the perspective of social service providers who work with older homeless women.

Sankofa, 64, who completed the CRFT program in 2013, was homeless herself when she began the training, although she had housing by the end of that year. “I thought maybe I could make a difference by gaining these new skills,” she says.

In the homeless shelter, Sankofa, who has several graduate degrees, found other older women, but observed that shelter programs typically addressed the mobility and health needs of younger inhabitants. CRFT got funding for a pilot project, “The New Face of Homelessness,” for which Sankofa and another fellow, LaDoris Payne, studied barriers to receiving health care among older homeless women. Findings are forthcoming. Ultimately, Sankofa hopes to engage service providers in a discussion of key issues.


  • Bettina Drake, MPH, PhD, is leading a study of how different consent models affect women’s intentions to donate to a biobank. The 330 women were given three consent types: 1) Notice: participants are notified that samples may be used in future studies; 2) Broad: participants are asked for permission once for biospecimen use in multiple future studies; or 3) Study-specific: participants are asked for consent before each biospecimen use. More than half preferred the study-specific method. Additional analyses are under way.
  • Mary Politi, PhD, led one of the earliest studies to examine effective ways to explain health insurance terms to people enrolling in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The research showed that using plain language, providing comparisons to familiar contexts and using stories about how people might make health insurance decisions can help support complex decisions about insurance choices. The study had 343 participants from urban, suburban and rural areas who did not have health insurance or only recently had enrolled.
  • Division Chief Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery, was the senior author of a study reporting that short-term weight gain, particularly during premenopausal years and among normal-weight women, adds to the risk of breast cancer. The findings were published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.