University and Local Hospitals Collaborate on Health Disparities Research

Group of Students and Faculty posing in Taffner Field House
September 28, 2020

One of St. John’s University’s strategic priorities is to “expand global and community partnerships.” To that end, partnerships in research between St. John’s and several area hospitals in Queens County—known as “The World’s Borough”—include collaborative research programs in behavioral medicine, with a focus on health disparities impacting local urban communities and beyond.

The Collaborative Health Integration Research Program (CHIRP), led by Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a multifaceted behavioral medicine research and research training program with a focus on health disparities. CHIRP frequently collaborates with medical staff from Jamaica Hospital Medical Center (JHMC), NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, and Flushing Hospital Medical Center. The goal of CHIRP is to reduce health disparities by generating new knowledge and developing the pipeline of researchers committed to health disparities research.

Partnership Pin Text: NYP-Queens St. John's University Frontline Well-Being Survey.  Covid-19 Pandemic

CHIRP began as a collaboration between St. John’s and JHMC. Fellows include undergraduate students in psychology and biology, master’s and doctoral-level graduate students in psychology, and JHMC Family Medicine resident physicians. All trainees work together on behavioral medicine research projects—and in the process, learn to become competent researchers. Now CHIRP also has a collaborative relationship with NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital.

“Consistent with our Vincentian mission, St. John’s has a vested interest in serving our neighbors and those most in need,” shared Dr. Brondolo. “Another positive outcome of CHIRP is by using ‘real-world’ research skills, it cultivates and expands the pipeline of researchers—especially those from underrepresented communities—who are committed to health disparities research.”

CHIRP projects focus on identifying and understanding the mechanisms contributing to disparities in health and health care. This mechanistic research provides the knowledge essential for the development of patient, provider, and system-based interventions to improve health outcomes. Student trainees collect data, and they are all contributing members of research teams conducting studies in campus labs and at local medical centers. Trainees develop skills in research conceptualization and implementation; leadership, collaboration, and team science; data collection, data management, and data analysis; and research writing and presentation.

“Over the last two years I have matured both professionally and personally, and I feel that I owe this growth to my experiences in CHIRP,” stated Alexandra R. Spinelli, a doctoral candidate. “CHIRP has allowed me to gain skills that help me carry myself today. From the academic perspective, I strengthened my research skills and gained hands-on data analysis experience that I was not getting in the standard college class. CHIRP allows me to research various topics on end-of-life care, in collaboration with NewYork Presbyterian-Queens, and more projects related to health outcomes such as burnout and COVID-19 outcomes. I feel I am expanding my professional network while examining issues about which I am very passionate.”

Anne-Marie N. Romain, a fourth-year undergraduate, remarked: “My experience in CHIRP has been extremely positive and has allowed me to receive tremendous research training through my undergraduate time at St. John’s. I am learning about the many facets of the research process, whether it be interpreting data, writing a research paper, applying to journals, and presenting research at conferences. My favorite part of CHIRP is the collaborative aspect of the program, which has thankfully not suffered during COVID-19 but simply changed as we went remote.”

Research project ideas emerge from clinical observations and existing data sources. The JHMC Family Medicine residents propose research ideas based on their observations of the clinical needs presented by patients at JHMC. The culturally diverse patients, who are often low-income, frequently have chronic conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. Every day, JHMC residents confront the challenges of preventing and managing chronic diseases in patients facing many psychosocial stressors with few resources. The residents generate ideas about the factors that increase the risk of chronic conditions and create barriers to effective health care.

Now, CHIRP fellows are involved in an initiative with NewYork-Presbyterian Queens to investigate burnout and well-being among clinical staff who were responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. CHIRP fellows worked with hospital physicians to send emails containing short surveys to all clinical staff every five days from April through June. Almost 20 percent of the hospital clinical staff participated in the project. The data allowed the hospital to understand rates of burnout among different staff members and to observe changes as COVID-19 caseloads decreased. The findings were shared with senior leadership and presented at staff and professional conferences. The goal is to use real-time data to help target resources and support.

CHIRP trainees regularly present their work at local, national, and international conferences, and some of the work from CHIRP members has been published in a wide range of journals and book chapters.

“By examining how the social environment influences how people think and feel and take care of their health, we can better understand, treat, and respond to health disparities with best practices—and, above all, with compassion,” stated Dr. Brondolo.

To learn more about CHIRP research, or if you are interested in becoming a member, email Dr. Brondolo at [email protected].