Wayne State University

Inaugural nursing urban health conference receives excellent response; reaffirms impact of nursing science on addressing health disparities

Wayne State University College of Nursing hosted its first annual Contemporary Issues in Urban Health Conference, which showcased findings from nursing science on April 12, 2017 at the Student Center ball room on Wayne State’s main campus. Dean Laurie M. Lauzon Clabo welcomed guests noting, “In the College of Nursing, addressing issues of importance to our urban community is in our DNA. This work is framed in our mission – and the mission of the broader University.”

The need and interest for such a dialog on a range of urban health topics, including health disparities, was confirmed when reservations reached capacity the week prior to the conference. Attendees included nurse scientists, community members and students, practicing nurses and faculty from nursing, pharmacy and social work. All were drawn together to examine how social and environmental factors interact to affect health outcomes in vulnerable, underserved populations.

“The presentations were great and the level of engagement between the presenters and attendees was wonderful,” said Dr. April Hazard Vallerand, Associate Dean for Research in the WSU College of Nursing and Director of its Office of Health Research as well as chair of the conference planning committee.

The morning keynote, Dr. Sandra Millon Underwood, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, stressed the importance of sustained, deep engagement with communities to address health needs from the perspective of the community. Her program of research focuses on cancer education, cancer prevention, early detection and cancer risk management for at-risk and underserved populations. "If you don't truly understand where people work and live and have fellowship you don’t truly understand…you’ve got to really see their faces."

Continuing with the theme of urban health, a panel comprised of local community leaders and nursing faculty shared experiences and provided advice on strategies to learn from and partner with communities. Panel member Dr. Ramona Benkert, WSU College of Nursing Associate Dean for Academic and Clinical Affairs and Associate Professor, wrapped up the presentation saying, "If you’re really passionate about working with a community, then you need to be devoted to and understand what affects them day in and day out. Put in the time and work with them on projects they are interested in." Attendees then chose a break-out session to learn and engage with three WSU Nursing faculty who shared their research findings and a local perspective on urban health and community.

During lunch, attendees perused a poster presentation that showcased 26 student, faculty and community member research and evidence-based practice projects. All shared a common goal: to reduce disparities in health outcomes and to address the needs of urban populations.

Dr. Phyllis Sharps, Associate Dean, Community Programs and Initiatives from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the afternoon keynote, continued the discussion on the importance of cultural competency in research conducted in African-American communities. Her experience working at the forefront of community and public health nursing and at the interface of mental and physical health provided invaluable insights to her address noting that, "Nurses need to facilitate access to quality care, access to screening and to promote engagement in clinical trials." Dr. Sharps shared knowledge gained through her program of research on the effects of intimate partner violence on the physical and emotional health of pregnant women, infants and very young children.

The conference also provided a fitting opportunity for the College of Nursing to honor its 2017 Alumna of the Year: Dr. Cynthia Taueg (B.S.N. '71), Vice President, Community Based Health Services and President of St. John Community Health Investment Corporation. She was recognized for her leadership and oversight of programs and services that address community health needs.  

In addition, the nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau International-Lambda Chapter presented three WSU College of Nursing students, Danielle Bastien, Alexandra Nowak and Shahrazad Timraz, each a research grant award.

The conference received generous sponsorship from St. John Providence, Health Providers Choice, Health Partners, Bayer, Henry Ford Health System, and Sigma Theta Tau International-Lambda Chapter.

Planning is underway for next year’s Urban Health conference, which will be held Wednesday, April 11, 2018.