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Student researchers present at Annual Conference on Health Disparities

December 11, 2013
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From left: Diane Sanchez, Acacia Crow and Kathryn Hankins present their poster on disparities in advance directive completion at the Seventh Annual Conference on Health Disparities.

EAU CLAIRE — Three nursing students and one biology and pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire recently presented research on barriers regarding advance directives in minority groups at the Seventh Annual Conference on Health Disparities in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Senior nursing students Diane Sanchez, South St. Paul, Minn.; Kathryn Hankins, Belle Plaine, Minn.; Acacia Crow, Couderay; and junior biology and pre-med student Erika Comdohr, Richfield, began working on the project last summer through funding from the North Central Wisconsin Area Health Education Center. The students researched four minority groups — Hmong, African American, Native American and Hispanic/Latino — to discover what barriers or facilitators were in place regarding advance directives.

Sanchez, the team leader, said during the literature review of existing research the team discovered many barriers to completion of advance directives within the minority groups.

"It is estimated that less than 30 percent of Americans have an advance directive in place, and minority groups are even less likely to have one," Sanchez said. "These results are important because advance directives are helpful in identifying end-of-life wishes and avoiding confusion about plans for care. Identifying which barriers hinder completion is the first step in reducing the disparity among minority groups."

Dr. Susan Moch, a UW-Eau Claire professor of nursing, said the Annual Conference on Health Disparities is a welcoming conference for students to present research and is a rewarding experience for them.

"One part of the conference focuses on encouraging students to continue to conduct research on health disparities," Moch said. "They see evidence presented that shows some cultural, racial or geographical groups have health outcomes that are not as favorable as other groups in the United States. Students have the opportunity to meet professionals and other students conducting research in this area and are able to share information and ask questions."

Sanchez said she benefited greatly from attending the conference and presenting her team's research.

"We learned a lot about disparities in health care and the role that we can play in helping to reduce them," Sanchez said. "There were various speakers and panel discussions that really opened our eyes to issues prevalent throughout the country. Some of the most inspiring messages were from those speakers who started intervention programs in communities struggling with problems, such as teen pregnancy."

Funding for the students' travel to the conference was provided by the UW-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Office of Multicultural Affairs and Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Tribe.

Moch said she always enjoys working with students and seeing them get excited about research.

"When students initially join a research team, they often think they have little to contribute," Moch said. "But through being on the team and learning the research process, the students become very confident and passionate about their work."

Sanchez and her research team plan to continue work on their project by conducting a study in which they will interview people who identify with a minority group to collect information on their beliefs and values regarding completion of advance directives.

For more information on the students' research into advance directives in minority groups, contact Dr. Susan Moch at smoch@uwec.edu or 715-836-4889.

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