Dr. Consuelo Wilkins serves as executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, a strategic partnership between Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is also director of the Community-Engagement Research Core in the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Science. In this month’s Member Spotlight, Dr. Wilkins is recognized for her work in developing and implementing innovative methods of engaging patients and communities in research. Download Dr. Wilkins’ ROCC Star Profile.
Please describe how the Community Engagement Studio (CE Studio) uses a team approach to elicit project-specific input from representative groups to frame and focus research questions, enhance study design, effectively implement protocols, and disseminate research.
The CE Studio uses a core team and a centralized infrastructure to convene a panel of patients and/or community stakeholders. We use a faculty-staff team with substantial experience in patient and community engagement to plan and facilitate the process. The patients or community stakeholders are identified using a navigator who is experienced in engaging diverse groups.
Because we convene a panel that represents the needs of the study or the study population, the input received is specific to the project. We tailor the recruitment based on the population the researcher wishes to engage. In the past, we have convened studios with individuals who have a history of breast cancer, ICU survivors, parents of children with insomnia and African-American women at risk for diabetes.
What are the top three skill sets need for researchers to successfully connect with others across disciplines and stakeholders?
First, the ability to effectively communicate with diverse groups is critical to the success of partnerships and collaborations and is a fundamental principle of patient and community engagement.
Second, is facilitating co-learning opportunities. Collaboration requires that individuals learn about different disciplines and different people. Because many in academia are highly specialized, there can be silos of expertise that result in barriers to collaborating. For success, those collaborating must have opportunities to learn from each other in a setting that fosters mutual respect.
Lastly, the ability to resolve conflict is key to building and sustaining collaborations. When individuals from different disciplines and backgrounds work together, conflict is likely and should be expected. Being able to resolve conflict will be the difference between a collaboration dissolving and true transformation.
What roles and relationships do you have with PCORI? What excites you most about PCORI’s goals?
I have been involved with PCORI as an investigator, merit reviewer, and a task force member. I was awarded a PCORI Research Award for a proposal on “Improving Patient Engagement and Understanding its Impact on Research” (summary available here). I am an investigator and the leader of the Stakeholder Engagement Team for the Mid-South Clinical Data Research Network (MS-CDRN). In this role, I also serve on the leadership team of the Patient and Consumer Engagement task force of PCORnet, the network of 11 CDRNs, and 18 Patient-Powered Research Networks that are funded by PCORI. Additionally, I had the pleasure of serving as chair of a PCORI Merit Review Panel.
I am most excited about PCORI's efforts to meaningfully engage patients, families, and stakeholders in research. To solve the complex challenges facing our health care system and address inequities in health outcomes, we must engage patients and consumers in all phases of research. PCORI has done an outstanding job of elevating the importance and value of patient and consumer engagement. By understanding the needs and values those impacted by health conditions and using the health care system, we will be in a much better position to improve health outcomes.