Professor aims to train students on health disparities research
For years, research has indicated that a disproportionately low number of African-American patients in need of kidney transplants actually receive them compared to white patients in South Carolina and nationwide.
Now, with the help of a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), assistant professor of USC’s College of Social Work Teri Browne is researching the disparity and training a team of five undergraduate and three graduate students in the process.
“It’s an area that has a lot of social need. It’s something that’s really important to me,” said Browne, who spent more than 13 years as a social worker for kidney disease patients.
According to research obtained by Browne from the U.S. Renal Data System in 2008, of all patients on kidney dialysis in South Carolina, 72 percent are black and 28 percent are white. However, only 41 percent of transplant recipients are black while 59 percent are white.
Under the grant, which will total about $421,000, Browne will be training students in social work research with an emphasis on this disparity in kidney dialysis patients. The goal is to determine the causes of this disparity and potential solutions.
“The NIH specifically wanted to fund research that would train students, especially undergraduate students, on health disparities research,” Browne said. “We’re trying to figure out why African Americans in the state of South Carolina may be less likely to get a kidney transplant.”
Browne said there was a tremendous student interest in the project and they underwent a rigorous application process in the fall. The undergraduates will be the first group of students from the College of Social Work to present research at Discovery Day, which takes place on April 22.
As listed on the College of Social Work’s website, the undergraduate students are Valerie Stiling, Lesley Jacobs, Sonya Davis-Kennedy, Olivia Jones and Cassidy Shaver and the graduate students are Jennifer Worthington, Derrick Jordan and Felix Weston.
Jennifer Worthington, a first-year dual master’s student in social work and public health, said she has found the project to be a great opportunity relating to her studies.
“It allows me to kind of see both worlds, including the social work perspective and public health,” Worthington said of the project.
Cassidy Shaver, a second-year social work student, said she heard about the research opportunity through the College of Social Work Listserv and was encouraged to apply by her academic advisor.
“I have learned so much this year, and been exposed to so many different issues and ideas,” Shaver said. “It has been a great experience thus far, and I cannot wait to see what the project turns into.”
So far, the students have been trained extensively on research, social determinants of health, kidney disease and kidney transplantation. They completed the full human subjects research certification and have also been involved with the S.C. National Kidney Foundation, including volunteering at Kidney Day and the S.C. Statehouse.
The research this year has consisted of finding background information on the subject, including conducting literature reviews on kidney disease and health disparities. In the fall, the students will accompany Browne to dialysis units in South Carolina and survey patients to then analyze and present data.
“The research will be surveying patients [and] what they understand about kidney transplants,” Browne said. “We want to look at the reasons to eventually come up with an intervention.”