My approach to research is to go beyond deficit models that only focus on individual behaviors and barrier to health, while incorporating the concept of intersectionality which refers to the interconnectedness of social factors. I have used mixed method approaches to focus on: (1) the effects of social-structural context, gender identity, and resilience on Black women’s sexual HIV risk and protective behaviors; (2) intersectionality, psychosocial, and cultural context that influence individual behaviors and community-level health outcomes among transgender individuals; and (3) utilizing technology-based methods to investigating health behaviors and broadly disseminate behavior change interventions. By acknowledging the existence of multiple intersecting identities and social-structural inequity, it is a necessary first step to understanding and addressing the complex social and health inequities that people from historically marginalized groups face. Accordingly, the development of the interventions and health education materials should focus on the experiences of these populations in their own contexts and from their own vantage points. In addition, my work focuses on incorporating internet and mobile technology use among vulnerable populations to design multilevel intervention strategies to address the quality of healthcare and health information. Specific topics of interest also include looking at the influence of cultural norms, stigma, discrimination, and relationship dynamics on HIV risk.
Prior to my doctoral education, I oversaw multiple clinical and epidemiologic research studies. In this role, I participated actively in planning and designing research studies and data collection instruments. In addition to health promotion and overseeing the implementations of the studies, I monitored and evaluated the study outcomes and utilized community-based participatory approaches to empower communities that were being served. In this position, I engaged in collaborative work with complex partnerships, which included government staff, community-based organizations, and healthcare providers. My previous extensive applied research experience has allowed me to conduct and perform clinical, scientific, and epidemiologic research, much of it independently. This experience provided me with a foundation in community-based participatory research (CBPR) that I value in my work. CBPR also inspired me to look towards new and innovative ways to disseminate health information to underserved populations while utilizing their current resources. With advancements in digital and mobile technologies, eHealth and mobile health (mHealth) has become another rapidly growing option for the promotion of mental health and well-being and another form of social capital.
As a researcher, my most recent work has concentrated on the development of innovative health education interventions using online technology and social media for a broad dissemination of behavior change interventions. I received my doctoral degree in Health Education at Teachers College Columbia University in 2015, where I completed my dissertation entitled “Diffusing the innovation of E-Health on post-exposure (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) using an avatar video targeting African American women: Identifying predictors of rating the video”. This study was novel because it was developed and implemented immediately after the 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s PrEP guidelines and it addressed the lack of knowledge of biomedical prevention strategies (post- and pre-exposure prophylaxis) among women, a population that has not received adequate outreach related to this HIV prevention strategy using eHealth technology and social media for dissemination. I have published two manuscripts related to this work that have shown that there was low awareness of both PEP and PrEP prior to watching the video among African American women, but consider utilizing PEP and PrEP as an HIV prevention strategy and would recommend them to other women within their network. Ultimately, this work has shown that the e-health avatar video was an effective mode of health education for African American women in that the majority of them gave the video high ratings for increasing awareness of PEP and PrEP.
Building upon my dissertation work, I was awarded a pilot grant titled, “Exploring Black women’s perceptions of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention”, from the Center of Drug Use HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) NYU School of Nursing during my post-doctoral training in Drug Abuse Research. The purpose of this study was to explore the factors that facilitate and impede Black women’s interest in oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and investigate the feasibility of using a brief e-health intervention to increase awareness and motivation for PrEP. The findings from this pilot study identified culture-specific motivational factors for utilization of PrEP among young adult Black women which were addressed in the intervention mapping process to design features of the e-health video. By adopting an assets-informed perspective of HIV prevention, the development of the eHealth video focuses on investigating the overlooked and untapped strengths that exist within the Black community experienced by Black women to educate women about PrEP.
The product from the pilot study, “Put Yourself First”, an education-entertainment animated video was incorporated in an NIH funded study, “Developing a Women-Focused PrEP Intervention for HIV Prevention” (PI: Teitelman) to educate women during the formative research phase and pilot intervention. This multi-site study was conducted in Philadelphia and New York, among Black and Latina women. The preliminary data from these studies will be used to develop and pilot test a novel theory-driven intervention to reduce sexual risk behaviors and increase use of a combination approach to HIV prevention among young adult women of color.
During my transition from post-doctoral training to a faculty position, I was offered a Visiting Faculty Fellow in the REIDS Scholars program at Yale University School of Public Health to conduct formative research to develop eHealth intervention for transgender women of color. This study, “Exploring Transgender Women’s Perceptions of E-Health Technology for Sexual Health Care Support”, will address the need to develop eHealth interventions that help participants recognize and respond to both harmful and protective socio-structural factors which may have an impact on their sexual behavior and their HIV prevention practices.
“There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.”
~ Audre Lorde