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Prostate Cancer Project reaches out to African American males through barbershop visits, a comic book and a brochure
Prostate Cancer Project reaches out to African American males through barbershop visits, a comic book and a brochureFebruary 16, 2001Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Every Saturday in February and March, the patrons of local African American barbershops are getting more than just a haircut–they’re also getting an education on prostate cancer. That’s because Luvenia Cowart, assistant dean of Syracuse University’s College of Nursing, and Betty Brown, a former oncology nurse at SUNY Upstate Medical University, are there to teach them. The two women have been conducting educational programs in local barbershops as part of the Prostate Cancer Project, an SU-based initiative aimed at educating the local African American community about prostate cancer and ultimately promoting preventative behavior among African American men. “We have found that the health-seeking behaviors of African American men are often poor. Many of them do not trust the health care system, and because of that they fail to see a doctor for regular checkups and screenings,” says Cowart. “We hope that, by heightening awareness of prostate cancer and the need for African American men to get tested early on, we will help to change these behaviors.” The project serves as a multidimensional, multidisciplinary model to address health disparities among minority populations, as identified in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 initiative. Direct community outreach, the development and dissemination of culturally competent educational materials, and primary research into the barriers concerning awareness, intervention and treatment are used. “The ultimate goal is to improve the health and well-being of the African American men who have been touched by prostate cancer, as well as their families,” says Cowart. It all started with statistics. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program, African American men are 34 to 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 123 percent more likely to die from the disease than are white men. Spurred on by a need to address this disparity, Cowart decided to take action, drawing on University and local resources to create the Prostate Cancer Project. She brought in Brown as project coordinator and Kelly Pettingill as administrative assistant, and solicited further assistance from Grant Reeher, associate professor of political science in The Maxwell School, and Judith Killen of SU’s Office of Sponsored Programs.
In 1999, the group worked to secure grants from the New York State Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and the National Kidney Foundation of Central New York. The group developed a “blueprint for action,” outlining the proposed goals of the project, and formulated the Prostate Cancer Education Council. The council’s community-based multidisciplinary membership included local prostate cancer survivors and their wives; physicians; representatives from local health care agencies and state and local government; and individuals from the University community, including Bobbie Perdue, associate professor of nursing; Charles Bowen, director of health services; Howard Johnson, dean of the Graduate School; William Pollard, dean of the College of Human Services and Health Professions; Horace Smith, associate vice president of undergraduate studies and retention; and Barry L. Wells, vice president for student affairs and dean of student relations. Council members continue to serve as advisors to the Prostate Cancer Project. In fact, it was suggestions from the council that eventually led to the barbershop project. “We were looking for a ‘teachable moment’ with African American men, a way to bring the information directly to them and to dialogue with them one-on-one,” Cowart says. “According to council members, a perfect place to reach that audience is a barbershop on a Saturday afternoon.” The barbershop campaign was kicked off last month and will conclude at the end of March with a total of five sessions. For each session, Cowart, Brown and council members bring informational literature and a video on prostate cancer, which they play for the men right in the shop. They answer questions and refer the men to local physicians or to the Syracuse Community Health Center. “We have identified and created a process that allows us to directly reach our intended audience,” says Cowart. “That’s what makes this project unique.” But the barbershop campaign is just the beginning. Through a partnership with the University’s Soling Program, directed by Fred Phelps, and the New York State Colorectal Cancer Screening and Prostate Cancer Education Program, Cowart and Brown have arranged for the creation of a culturally competent video on prostate cancer for African American men. “There is information on prostate cancer available,” says Brown. “But despite the high incidence of this disease among African American men, there are very few materials created specifically for African American men. We believe the video will make a significant contribution to the literature.” Brown and Cowart also hope to target a younger group–11- to 19-year-old boys–through the creation of a comic book titled “Jumpstart Your Health.” Though funding for the book is still being sought, SU alumnus and nationally syndicated cartoonist Robb Armstrong ’85 has agreed to serve as illustrator. When completed, “Jumpstart Your Health” will be used by student volunteers in SU’s Center for Public and Community Service literacy corps, who work with about 1,800 inner-city youths each year. “The comic book will educate young males about good health-seeking behaviors and will teach them early on some basic information about prostate cancer awareness and prevention,” says Cowart. “Once this comic book is completed, we hope to see the creation of new books on a wide variety of health topics and targeted to different audiences.” Cowart also recently received an SU Vision Fund grant that will support the creation of a culturally competent brochure on prostate cancer specifically targeting African American men. Kajal Desai and Katherine Fischer, senior nursing students in assistantprofessor Mary Wilde’s Health and Illness in Groups and Communities (NUR 416) course, will create the brochure as part of the community project requirement. “The integration of student service and learning is pivotal to the goals and objectives of the newly formed College of Human Services and Health Professions,” says Cowart.–more– Cowart stresses the importance of encouraging students to participate in the project. “Most textbooks do not fully address the issue of health disparity among minority populations,” she says. “This project enhances learning by giving students hands-on exposure to cultures and situations with which they are not familiar. As society becomes more diverse, we as educators must equip our students to work effectively with individuals from different cultures.” Adds Brown: “The project emphasizes the importance of being culturally sensitive when dealing with different populations.” One of the project’s lead advisors has been Dr. Gabriel Haas, chair of the urology department at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Through his efforts, Dr. Isaac Powell of Wayne State University in Michigan, a noted prostate cancer researcher and survivor, will visit Syracuse on March 1, speaking at SUNY Upstate’s grand rounds and meeting with the council. SU nursing students will be encouraged to attend. Also in partnership with Haas, the project directors have been invited to submit a proposal to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to host a public health conference in Central New York next year. The conference will focus on the delivery of culturally competent prostate cancer care and educating medical researchers and health care providers regarding prostate cancer. Another outgrowth of the Prostate Cancer Project is Brother to Brother, a local support group for African American men suffering from prostate cancer. The original idea for the group came from a member of the council who noted that such a resource was not available in Syracuse. Now operating out of the Southwest Community Center, Brother to Brother meets once a month and is attended regularly by about 15 men who discuss a variety of health issues in addition to prostate cancer. According to Cowart, members of the African American medical community have been very supportive of the project. Among their number are Dr. Jerry Brown, a radiologist with St. Joseph’s Imaging Associates; Dr. Lexsee Nickson, a radiologist with the Syracuse Community Health Center; and urologist Dr. Herbert James, internist Dr. Bruce Simmons and pathologist Dr. Gregory Threatte, all with SUNY Upstate Medical University.