This article appears on the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ blog, Musings.
Conducting community-based participatory research (CBPR) can be a daunting task for busy clinicians. Many PAs have had public health training, and many more have a passion for taking care of populations they serve beyond the individual provider-patient dyad. PAs can follow several models to empower stakeholders to partner with public health providers. CBPR is defined as a collaborative approach to research that involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strength that each brings. CBPR begins with a research topic important to the community, and seeks to combine knowledge with action to achieve social change to improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities.
Ask the community you serve, “What are you interested in?” and “What are the problems you want to solve?” This is not the typical top-down approach of obtaining a grant to help a population do what outside experts think is best for them. This is not about being the person with all the knowledge with your own ideas about what the community needs. This is about helping the community to make a change. This is about the ideals of shared decision-making and equal partnerships. CBPR also does not aim to make an individual PA a researcher: it is a rational process to organize the health practitioner’s thinking from an assessment, intervention and evaluation approach.
The model that can help a community-oriented PA is the Precede-Proceed Model. The model has five steps, including assessing attitudes within a community. Another step is to assess the resources—for example, are the neighborhoods walkable, are fresh fruits available or does the community have food deserts? The assessment and resource steps are critical in truly understanding the community and the people the PA is serving.