Whitney and Yuan named Paul Ambrose Scholars by Association for Prevention Teaching and Research

UMMS students receive support for innovative preventive and public health initiatives

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

February 22, 2017
  Yan Emily Yuan

Yan Emily Yuan

  Kari Whitney

 Kari Whitney, RN

UMass Medical School nursing student Kari Whitney, RN, and medical student Yan Emily Yuan have been named 2017 Paul Ambrose Scholars, an honor that provides support for a local preventive care and public health project. Run by the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program prepares students to be leaders in addressing population health challenges.

Whitney, a women’s health advocate and former teacher, will establish a sexual and reproductive health training program with staff at health centers based in Worcester high schools. Yuan, a third-year medical student who immigrated to the United States at age 6, will explore whether using text-messaging groups will increase Chinese immigrants’ understanding of, and comfort with, getting screened for breast, cervical and colon cancer.

“In order for young people to have agency over their bodies and autonomy in their health care choices, they need and deserve access to reproductive and sexual health resources,” said Whitney. “Having a greater ability to teach health information is what brought me into nursing.”

A survey by the Worcester Impact on Sexual Health task force confirmed that local teens want clear, unbiased information from the adults in their lives about healthy relationships, sexual health and safe-sex practices. Conducted in collaboration with the task force and with input from the nurses and physician assistants who staff the school-based health centers, Whitney will develop the train-the-trainer program to include effective communication tools for addressing sexual health with students; how to respond to sensitive questions; and how to lead workshops about reproductive and sexual health for teachers.

“This project is consistent with my future career goals, which go beyond clinical care to include education, policy and leadership,” said Whitney. “The Paul Ambrose opportunity resonates with me because it is about connecting with others. I believe in using my voice to make an impact for those who don’t have one.”

Yuan said the Paul Ambrose support will help her reach out to the local Chinese-American population.

“Cancer is the number one cause of death in Chinese-Americans and immigrants,” said Yuan. “Preventive medicine has not historically been emphasized in China, which provides health care to more than 1.3 billion people, making it difficult for immigrants to fit preventive medicine into their schema for the health care system.”

Active social networks among friends and families have been shown to affect immigrants’ attitudes towards health care in the United States, and are associated with an increase in individuals’ engagement with Western physicians and health services. Social networks for immigrants are largely maintained through mobile technology, particularly a platform called WeChat. The free text and voice messaging application is the primary communication technology among Chinese immigrants in the United States, according to Yuan, making it the ideal platform for her study focusing on cancer screenings.

“This project takes the foundation of traditional social networks and transforms it to the modern setting in which social networks are now maintained through an online platform, taking something everyone already uses and using it in a unique way,” she said. “We’re exploring the meaningful use potential of text-messaging-based opportunities to engage people in their health care and disseminate health education.”

Whitney and Yuan will be among the 40 health professions students from 34 academic health professions institutions across the country who will attend the Paul Ambrose Student Leadership Symposium in Savannah, Ga. in April. They have a year to complete their service projects.

The Paul Ambrose Scholars honors public health and disease prevention advocate Paul Ambrose, MD, MPH, who was aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

Previous UMass Medical School Ambrose Scholars are Preetam Cholli, SOM ’18; Geneva DeGregorio, SOM ’17; Timothy Gleeson, SOM ’13; Bonnie Vallie, SOM ’11; Jennifer Markey, GSN ’07; and Jeanne Cawse, SOM ’06. 

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