Charles R. Drew University PD Finds Rewards in Health Disparities Research
Being a PA educator and leading a PA program can be a daunting amount of work but one PAEA member has an encouraging story for those who also want to find the time to do important research work.
Lucy W. Kibe, DrPH, MS, MHS, PA-C, director of the Physician Assistant Program and associate professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, recently completed a study on COVID-19 Attributes and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors among Older African Americans for which she was awarded a grant of $70,000 by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIH-NIMHD) Accelerating Excellence in Translational Science (AXIS) grant program.
This year, she will be conducting a study on the Impact of a Colorectal Cancer and Nutrition Education Program among Minority Patients with Type 2 Diabetesfor which she was awarded a four-year $600,000 grant by the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Clinical Scientist Development Grant.
Kibe said she was proud to be contributing to better health outcomes, especially for traditionally underserved populations, through her research work. Her research endeavors are driven by a strong commitment to reducing health disparities through chronic disease prevention initiatives. As a PA educator, she is committed to developing a diverse PA workforce dedicated to the same mission.
Many PAs see patients one at a time. Delivering health care in this way makes a difference. In addition to this model, researching questions on how to treat a population allows for greater impact on more patients, the health care system, and the policies that drive the health of all Americans, Kibe noted “If we don’t ask the questions, or we don’t go back and answer the questions, in a public health kind of way, it makes it very difficult to move the needle,” she said.
“Identifying the key areas of health disparities that require reform is crucial. However, there is an urgency to translate our knowledge into concrete actions that will produce tangible improvements. Addressing health disparities one-patient-at-a-time is important, but not sufficient. Systemic changes are needed to effectively bridge the healthcare gap for all Americans,” she said.
Health care is always changing. PAs need to always be developing and testing new theories to develop methods and practices that will benefit patients the researchers will never even meet.
Kibe agreed that pursuing research can be challenging but added, “Actually, it’s not as hard as people think.”
“In PA school, we really don’t spend a lot of time learning about research because, ‘Hey, we have to pass the PANCE’ and we have to teach cardiology and all of these other things. There’s just not enough time. But, in many ways, research is very intuitive. It’s very common sense. With just a little bit of training here and there and mentoring, anybody can do it,” she said.
Organizations like PAEA, AAPA, and others in the PA field are offering grants and training that allow PAs to pursue research. There is staff that can be made available to a PA who wants to conduct a research study and other supports like data or research portals.
“What I would say to anybody who is interested is, it’s not that hard. You can do it. I’m not any special person but I was able to get the grants. You can do it, you just have to be willing to do it and find the resources and the mentorship which is all available to all of us,” she said.
She attributes her success to an early mentor Dr. Mary Leonard, MD MSCE, currently a researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine, who introduced her to research. She also wholeheartedly acknowledges and expresses her appreciation to her current mentors, Mohsen Bazargan, PhD, and Magda Shaheen, MD, MPH, PhD., and Jaydutt Vadgama, PhD at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. Additionally, she extends her gratitude to the funding agencies, NIH-NIMHD and ACS.
Kibe added some very direct advice to PAs interested in developing a research project to “go for it.” She said if you don’t apply for a grant, you won’t get it.
“Receiving a $70,000 grant was amazing. Subsequently, I pursued a larger grant and secured $600,000 for my research endeavors. This experience demonstrates that such opportunities are accessible to anyone with dedication and determination.”
Kibe’s research projects
Kibe started her professional journey in public health before joining the PA profession.
As a PA, all her clinical work has been in Federally Qualified Health Centers, serving individuals who are marginalized. She has led clinical teams to design and implement initiatives that address disease prevention and improve the quality of life for vulnerable patients.
The common thread in all her projects is to diminish health disparities. She aims to accomplish this by gaining deeper insights into the barriers and opportunities for sustainable changes that will positively impact populations who have historically been underserved.
For the first grant, Kibe and her team spoke to patients at a time while many communities, including the one in the study, were under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers asked questions about dietary habits, physical activity, and mitigating factors such as food insecurity and the neighborhood food environment, which could make chronic diseases worse.
“The goal there was to understand what the issues were so we could develop interventions to solve those problems,” she said.
After the study was over, the researchers hosted a gala so they could tell the subjects about what they had learned about factors like the participants’ dietary habits, and model healthy meals. Kibe said the researchers helped the participants learn about what steps they might take to live healthier lifestyles.
“We talked to them about dietary guidelines. They had an opportunity to review their own individual dietary history report and have these ‘aha!’ moments of, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m not eating enough vegetables. At least, I don’t think I am, based on the guidelines.’ Those reports were meant to help them understand and be able to make some changes and maybe even share this report with their providers and continue those conversations,” she said.
Kibe has presented findings from the study at different conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. There were two posters created with the research results displayed by AAPA in May.
The research project funded by ACS is in its early stages, but data collection is expected to begin this year.
This one is a larger study, and it includes an extensive intervention. Kibe and her team will work with providers and patients to increase colorectal cancer screening and promote a colon-healthy diet, ultimately with a goal of reducing colorectal cancer among patients with type 2 diabetes.
“These patients have a high risk for colon cancer but are less likely to have received colorectal cancer screening compared to those without diabetes,” she said.
Asked how she finds the time for research while leading a demanding PA program, Kibe said most PA programs provide time for professional development. A lot of PAs use that time for working in a clinic but Kibe said she uses that time to do research.
She also admitted that she sometimes she puts in a weekend or evening on research because “once I get into it, I start to enjoy it!”
“It becomes exciting and interesting, so you don’t feel like it’s such a strain because you enjoy doing it, but I do enjoy getting that professional development time and I have chosen to use mine for my research work,” she said.
Dr. Kibe is the Program Director for the Physician Assistant (PA) program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from the Drexel University Physician Assistant Program after obtaining a Doctor of Public Health degree (DrPH) with a focus on community health and prevention, from the same institution. She also holds a master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Akron, OH.
Dr. Kibe continues her professional development by participating as a fellow in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at UCLA. She also receives mentorship support from the Clinical Research Education and Career Development scholar program at CDU.
Kibe LW, Bazargan M, Bosah A, Schrode KM, Kuo Y, Andikrah E, Shaheen M. Diet Quality of Older African Americans: Impact of Knowledge and Perceived Threat of COVID-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2023; 20(7):5274. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20075274
Kibe, L.W., Bosah, A., Schrode, K.M. et al. Assessing Food Access, Exercise, and Dietary History among Older African American Parishioners During the COVID-19 Pandemic (C-FED Study): Design, Opportunities, Challenges, and Lessons Learned. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-023-01657-8