who we are
Community Conversations: Sister to Sister, a women’s health initiative, is an open forum to explore health issues of relevance to Black women and their families.
Startling disparities in morbidity, mortality, and access to high-quality healthcare for U.S. Black women are well-documented. To combat these disparities, we host monthly meetings in a local hair salon that bring together Black women with a rotating multidisciplinary team of Black women health professionals for informal and candid conversation. Having regular opportunities to meet with other Black women to discuss health and practice health-related conversations can improve our participants' health and wellness experience. Through our efforts, we:
Our community includes women of color from varied educational, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds. Our incredibly diverse Black community includes women who are American-born, Caribbean, and African, among other nationalities. Women from the Cambridge community and healthcare providers from medicine, science and public health gather together to learn from each other. Together, we aim to break down barriers between patient and providers, as well as the community and those who provide care to the community. Our circular forum approach equalizes all participants, providing a level playing field for dialogue.
EXPANDED AND ADAPTED THE RECOGNIZED BARBERSHOP/SALON MODEL
A NEW "HEALTH CARE TEAM" OF CONSUMERS AND FACULTY
WOMEN AS STEWARDS OF FAMILY HEALTH
HEALTH LITERACY SKILLS
PROMOTE HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Profound conversations occur daily at hair salons in the black community. We expand and adapt a well-recognized Barbershop/Salon model long employed in public health. While the Barbershop format supports single-session, information-driven lectures, the unidirectional flow of content from health providers to consumers does not develop an interconnected community who share information and strategies. Designed to address the broader health needs of Cambridge’s Black women and families, our implementation brings together Black women consumers with Black women providers on common ground and in ongoing conversation. We aim to form a new “health care team” of consumers and faculty and to encourage all team members to value different forms of expertise. Knowledge can be trained and lived, quantitative and qualitative, population-wide and family-specific.
Our approach, while covering disease processes, focuses on promoting health and wellbeing. The agenda includes practical care issues, prevention strategies, associated risks and comorbidities, disparities in access to health resources and care, and heritability. Health challenges are placed in context, allowing our consumers to develop a more holistic picture of how to work toward health and wellbeing. While up-to-date health information is exchanged at each conversation, we also provide each participant with tools to create an individualized health scaffolding. Developing health literacy skills to evaluate the validity and applicability of health information requires becoming familiar with health related language and concepts. Our participants critically assess health information gleaned from our sessions, the media, and medical journal articles (provided at each session), and shared by their personal health care practitioners. This emphasis on a shared role as the “keepers” of important health information and medical decision-making has the potential to reduce some barriers to improved access to and uptake of health care resources.
Our community participants often share that they don’t have time and space to consider their own health needs—that they rank low on their own priority lists and there are too many other people that they need to care for first. Recognizing that women often serve as the stewards of family health, the benefits of our efforts have been felt much more broadly. Exploring the stresses of balancing the needs and demands placed on women’s shoulders, Community Conversations helps women internalize that in order to fulfill their role of "Chief of Family Health," they too must preserve their own health.
Lastly, we evaluate and assess our impact with an evidence-based approach through the collection of qualitatitve and quantitative data capturing our participants' experiences. By determining the drivers of and barriers to participation, we can improve our outreach efforts and provide targeted support to individuals in fulfilling their healthcare goals.