How Research About Diabetes Led CHI’s Newest Analyst to Want to Increase Representation and Address Health Disparities

While roaming the halls of the University of Northern Colorado as a first-year college student, my eye caught a glimpse of stars behind a rocket. It was a flyer inviting students to apply to the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, named in honor and memory of Astronaut Dr. Ronald E. McNair. The program’s mission is to increase the attainment of graduate degrees by students from historically excluded groups, including first-generation and low-income college students. I kept the flyer pinned above my dorm room desk until I became a junior, applied, and was accepted into the program.

As a McNair scholar, I spent countless hours researching, proposing, and conducting independent research under the guidance of a mentor professor in the field. My research explored the mechanism of action behind Metformin, one of the drugs most commonly prescribed to treat type II diabetes in the U.S. Its broad reach and affordability made it important to explore the effects of this drug on the body, which were still widely unknown. During my research, I learned more about the mechanism and pharmacokinetics of Metformin in people with Type 2 diabetes than I ever thought I would.

I also learned that Metformin is more commonly prescribed to low-income patients, many of whom are non-white. Several months into our research, I found a study that noted severe adverse reactions from Metformin occurred more commonly among Black, Native American, and Latinx people. I was drawn to this disparity, and quickly realized that these same ethnic groups were underrepresented in controlled clinical trials — the populations who most commonly use this drug are far less likely to be represented in the data.

I also began to think about how social determinants, such as income and access to healthy food, inequitably played into the development of Type 2 diabetes. I began to think about how many people in the United States struggled to receive the care on which their lives depend. It is much harder for an uninsured mother, father, or child to obtain their medications, much less receive life-sustaining care. I became increasingly committed to representing these voices and experiences in my work. When communities remain underrepresented, their issues remain invisible and their problems in health care unaddressed.

As I transitioned into graduate school, I immersed myself in work focused on health equity, community health, and access to care. Through a variety of projects and roles, I was able to build skills in community engagement, project management, and qualitative and quantitative research and analysis. For example, one project focused on the associations between the built environment and COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and deaths using a place-based, multi-level model. By identifying aspects of the neighborhood environments that were tied to COVID-19 infection rates, we were able to discuss how social and environmental policies affect risk.

At the Colorado Health Institute, my commitment to increase representation within health care holds true. I aim to keep learning and analyzing the health issues that continue to negatively affect historically underrepresented communities. I look forward to tackling issues in immigration health, reproductive justice, and health care access. Alongside my colleagues at CHI, I am committed to advancing health by helping increase the diversity of perspectives represented, questions asked, and health care issues prioritized within the local and national context.

Related Blogs and Research