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Lifting Voices in Patient Care and Education

March 25, 2022
Clara Gona

Clara M. Gona, PhD, FNP-BC, teaches in the Direct-Entry MS in Nursing program (Family track) and in the Interprofessional Certificate in Global Health, Equity, and Innovations program. Dr. Gona is also a faculty nurse scientist at the Yvonne L. Munn Center for Nursing Research at MGH.

“My research focus has been in vulnerable populations. While vulnerable populations cover a large umbrella of individuals in society, my research specifically focuses on bringing individual voices to the forefront of patient care and education. Over the span of my career, I have examined the lived experiences of women living with HIV, Black students at a predominantly white institution, and African immigrants in the United States. Teaching a graduate course on immigrant and refugee health enlightened me on the dearth of literature on the health of African immigrants outside of infectious disease.

Because of my interest in research in African immigrants and to better understand the community, I conducted a pilot needs assessment of Zimbabwean immigrants, looking at formal diagnoses of chronic conditions, body weight, blood pressure and hypertension, and HIV risk perception. We found high rates of diagnosed hypertension, overweight/obesity, mental health issues, and low propensity to have ever been tested for HIV. 

Building further on this pilot work and understanding the difficulties of recruiting individuals to participate in studies, we developed a community advisory board (CAB) in the Zimbabwean immigrant community. Recruiting leaders into the CAB gave me a formal entry into the community and helped me to conduct additional community-based research, such as facilitating focus group interviews to explore attitudes and beliefs regarding cardiovascular disease risk in the Zimbabwean immigrant community. We found that participants in this study were mistrusting of Western style healthcare, often did not speak about their chronic illnesses, did not like to take medications or engage in physical activity, and consumed a Westernized diet high in sugar and saturated fat. 

Expanding on this work, we are currently writing a grant proposal utilizing mixed methods to determine the feasibility of an intervention to help reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease in Zimbabwean immigrants. By focusing on this work, I am building new knowledge that can be applied to provide better care for these and similar immigrant populations.” 

- Clara Gona. PhD, FNP-BC