Kevin Du, a first-year physician assistant student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, has experienced patients at their worst while working in the emergency room at University Health Truman Medical Center.
“I see the impact the social determinants of health have on certain populations,” Du said. “In the emergency room, we see a lot of immigrants and persons of color and that really resonated with me coming from a first-generation family.”
It made such an impact that Du is now part of a unique Area Health Education Centers Scholars program that helps prepare health professions students to care for rural and urban underserved patients in small interprofessional teams.
Throughout the two-year program, students take part in didactic and community activities that focus on areas such as quality improvement and patient-centered care, as well as cultural competency and emerging issues in health care. Interprofessional education events that bring together students from differing health care fields are also part of the curriculum.
Du is taking part in the scholars program in conjunction with his physician assistant studies at the School of Medicine. Much of the coursework for the AHEC program is done individually but participants also work interprofessionally once or twice a year with others throughout the state.
“My biggest reason for doing this program is to become more culturally competent and to be able to recognize any biases I may have so that I can be a more understanding patient care provider in the future,” Du said.
Before starting the physician assistant program at UMKC, Du served as an emergency room technician at Truman Medical Center, now University Health Truman Medical Center, as well as a technician in the cardiovascular ICU at St. Louis Barnes Jewish Hospital and as an EMT/technician with an urgent care center also in St. Louis.
Now, he says his goal is to work in an urban core medical center where he can reach those in need of help.
“I have seen the struggles that my parents went through and how they were treated regarding health care,” Du said. “I truly want to help the underserved population when I graduate from UMKC.”
UMKC and School of Medicine supporting KC Marathon
UMKC and the School of Medicine are proud sponsors of the Oct. 16 Garmin KC Marathon – the largest race event in Kansas City and a significant community tradition. This year’s race has something for everyone: a full- and half-marathon, as well as a 10k and 5k, plus many volunteer opportunities.
For all the Running Roos out there, registration is now open for the race. New this year, the race will start and end near the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In-between, runners will enjoy a tour of the city including the National World War I Museum & Memorial, the Country Club Plaza, Waldo, Westport, 18th & Vine, and more. Participants receive a race shirt, a finisher’s medal, free food and drinks, free downloadable race photos and massages at the Finish Line Festival.
Not a runner? Consider volunteering at the event. There are many ways to help: course monitors, medical tent support, packet pickup, etc. To see all the opportunities, visit the race’s volunteer page.
And if you will be on the sidelines supporting the race and its participants, make sure to sport your Blue and Gold so all the racers know that the Roos are cheering them on.
COVID safety will be top of mind during the race, as organizers have implemented a number of protocols to ensure the safety of participants and staff, including:
A socially distanced start
Masks required at all times except while actively racing
Contactless aid stations
Hand-washing and sanitization stations throughout the race site
Increased spacing in the Finish Line Festival area
Don’t miss out – this year’s event promises to be one to remember. For more information visit the KC Marathon website.
After adapting to COVID restrictions and holding a virtual race last year, Kansas City’s Hospital Hill Run (HHR) is back as a live, in-person event on June 5. Whether you walk or run, and whether you prefer a 5K, 10K or half-marathon distance, make plans to join the city’s oldest foot race and the first live half-marathon event in the Kansas City Metro this spring. Here’s the official HHR statement:
The Hospital Hill Run has been given the green light to move forward with a live event, as scheduled for 6/5/21, pending any unforeseen circumstances. Health and wellness of our participants is our top priority and all city and state protocols will be followed.
The UMKC Health Sciences District is sponsoring the event, and all UMKC faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends receive a 20 percent discount when you REGISTER using this code: WPFCUMKC21. For younger participants, K-12 registration is offered as well.
The Hospital Hill Run website provides resources, videos and training materials to help participants prepare for the race. Runners/walkers will receive race medals and t-shirts.
Not a runner? The race is also recruiting volunteers. Learn more.
The Hospital Hill Run, founded in 1974 by UMKC School of Medicine founder Dr. E. Grey Dimond, is the oldest foot race in Kansas City. What started as a single 6.8-mile race with 99 runners has evolved into a well-known, world-class event hosting thousands of runners from nearly all 50 states. It was recently voted the Best Organized Footrace/Run in Kansas City by The Pitch magazine readers, and the 2021 event will mark its 48th year of success.
Making access to health care more equal is a tough task, and a pandemic only makes the job tougher. To help, the UMKC Health Equity Institute is trying a new tool — mini-grants to university researchers and their community partners — to boost those efforts.
“We have about $12,000 to $15,000 to spend, and we think putting $1,000 to $2,000 in the right places could help eight to 10 projects move forward,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., the director of the institute and a professor in the UMKC School of Medicine. “Sometimes help paying for study participants, software, consultants or other resources can make a real difference.”
Apply HERE for a
UMKC Health Equity Institute
Deadline is Nov. 9
Though small, the grants could be the seed money — or the Miracle-Gro® — needed to turn ideas into budding projects that encourage and measure the effectiveness of community health efforts.
The brief application for the mini-grant program is available now, and institute members are encouraging researchers and community groups to submit their joint applications. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a webinar Oct. 16 to learn information about the mini-grants. Important information, such as budget documents and the grant program overview, are available, as well.
Applicants will have until Nov. 9 to submit their proposals, after which finalists will be chosen. The finalists then will give short oral presentations and recipients will be chosen. The institute plans to have the funds available at the beginning of 2021.
“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners,” Berkley-Patton said. “The institute’s steering committee will evaluate the applications, and we hope to have applicants make a brief, but impactful, oral pitch for their proposals sometime this fall in a virtual presentation akin to “Shark Tank®.”
The idea behind the Health Equity Institute, an initiative Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal started in April 2019, is to partner UMKC researchers with community groups, non-profits and government agencies in underserved areas on projects that aim to improve community health.
The institute, for example, is working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to evaluate the impact of the city’s now-free bus service on health outcomes. The institute wants to understand whether their recruited residents’ health and overall well-being improve because they walk more and have better access to jobs and health care through the free transit system. The institute has also helped the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department conduct COVID-19 drive-through testing by coordinating more than 90 student volunteers. The students helped with intake, traffic control and providing COVID-19 information to people seeking testing.
The institute also helped with formation of an interfaith ministers’ group, the Clergy Response Network,
founded to address COVID-19 inequities in Kansas City’s faith-based settings, and has created a church reopening checklist for clergy. The network recently received 30,000 face masks to distribute to congregations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Berkley-Patton is a veteran of community-based health research, including studies that engage churches and other community-based organizations’ in efforts to combat health disparity issues such as HIV and other STDs, mental health, obesity and diabetes.
“We need more research projects that improve the health of people where they live, play, worship and work, and projects that can be sustained for the long haul after research shows they work,” Berkley-Patton said. “We think these mini-grants can get more projects like these up and running while engaging the community in research efforts that we hope will reduce disparities and improve health in Kansas City’s urban areas.”
The Garmin Kansas City Marathon is not alone in canceling its fall event because of the coronavirus, but its organizers are challenging runners and supporters in a new way.
UMKC School of Medicine and its hospital affiliate Truman Medical Centers are gold sponsors of the MILLION MILE CHALLENGE, KC Marathon’s running alternative for 2020. School of Medicine has 10 FREE entries available on a first-come, first-served basis, and all UMKC students, staff and faculty who register can receive a discounted entry fee.
“It was a tough call, but canceling the race was best for the safety of race participants, partners, staff and volunteers,” said Dave Borchardt, director of corporate and community relationships at the Kansas City Sports Commission, the non-profit organization that organizes the Garmin Kansas City Marathon. “Now, we are excited about the Million Mile Challenge and encouraged by the interest it’s received.”
The Million Mile Challenge is a fun and engaging way to support your local community while staying fit through training and running. Between now and Oct. 17, participants can track and log miles anytime and anywhere they walk or run, both as they train and complete their race miles (5k, 10K, half marathon or full marathon). The goal is to reach one million cumulative miles among all registered in the challenge, with key mileage benchmarks celebrated with randomly selected gift winners announced along the way.
The event concludes with a two-day, drive-through Finishers Fest Oct. 16-17 with fun photo opportunities, sponsor booths and other activities. There, participants can pick up their participant items in person, including a race-branded shirt, finisher’s medal, commemorative race bib and finisher’s certificate, Million Mile Challenger finisher item and the ultimate KC swag bag. Registrants may also have their race packets mailed directly to them (additional fees apply).
If interested in a FREE entry, contact Lisa Mallow (firstname.lastname@example.org). Registration is open through Oct. 15, and the cost is $40. UMKC students, staff and faculty save 10 percent when using the discount code UMKCMED10.
To sign up and start logging your miles today, click here.
Charlie Keegan, KSHB, talked to Jannette Berkley-Patton and volunteers at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site
The UMKC Health Equity Institute facilitated volunteer efforts at drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites. The institute was formed four years ago to identify health care problems and offer solutions led by Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D. Read Keegan’s story about the testing site and the Health Equity Institute.
When Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal needed someone to head the new UMKC Health Equity Institute, he didn’t have to look far. The School of Medicine’s Jannette Berkley-Patton is a leader in community health research — just the right person to direct the institute, which is charged with combining the university’s research strengths with community groups’ grass-roots involvement to identify, quantify and reduce health care gaps.
Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., a professor in the school’s Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, might be best known for her Taking It to the Pews project, an outreach effort through local churches that gets people tested for HIV. She also is director of the UMKC Community Health Research Group, putting her in an ideal position to bring together the university’s research programs and Kansas City social services groups and agencies.
In the year since Agrawal announced the institute, Berkley-Patton has made sure it got off to a running start. The institute has helped new projects large and small, with the goal of lasting improvements in health across social and economic classes. Anything that might improve health — from providing better transportation and more-affordable care to encouraging better eating and exercise — could be involved.
“We spend billions on health care but are still one of the unhealthiest countries in the world,” said Berkley-Patton, who has degrees in engineering, human development and family life, and child and developmental psychology. “Large federal grants can help create effective programs, but we need sustainable improvements that continue when the grants end.”
Berkley-Patton also is determined to keep the institute’s momentum moving forward, despite the COVID19 disruptions to health care and the wider economy.
“In fact,” she said, “the Health Equity Institute is even more important than ever given that these underserved folks who historically have had more challenges in accessing health care services are likely to be hurt the most by the disruptions.
Get on the bus
One big project for the institute will be tracking how free bus service affects people’s health. This year, Kansas City, Missouri, plans to become the first large city with free public transit — dropping bus fares to zero to match the city’s streetcars, which already are fare-free.
The institute, recognizing a golden opportunity to measure the benefits of free public transit, has drawn up a multi-step research plan and submitted ambitious applications for grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC grant calls for research into “a natural experiment,” Berkley-Patton said, “and if ever there was a natural experiment, offering free transit is it.”
She continued, “We know from other research that people who use public transit tend to get 5 to 15 minutes more physical activity than non-riders, just getting to and from public transit. So if free bus service increases ridership, we hope to also see improvements in the health of people in low-income areas.”
The institute will start by gathering baseline data, both from comparable cities’ transit systems and from 500 current riders. The plan for identifying those people and getting data from them has been approved by UMKC’s Institutional Review Board, which ensures that research subjects are treated ethically. That data gathering is on hold over COVID-19 concerns, but the institute is ready to go when the situation improves.
The CDC grant the institute seeks calls for data on 10,000 people, which defies individual recruitment. “So, we’re proposing to collaborate with the Truman Medical Centers,” Berkley-Patton said. “We have identified 11 low-income ZIP codes, and TMC has data on thousands of people that can serve as a measure of the health of those areas.”
Of those patients, the institute hopes to have 4,000 take a brief survey, to gauge some basics about them such as income and incidence of health problems including diabetes and obesity.
The institute also plans to recruit 200 occasional bus riders to track, to see whether free service turns them into regular riders, and whether that improves their health.
Berkley-Patton says the elimination of fares should be a good incentive, saving a regular rider an estimated $1,500 in transit costs. And the research should identify other possible benefits, such as having access to more and better jobs.
“We’ve had lots of collaboration on this already to design research and make our grant proposals,” Berkley-Patton said, ticking off allies from Children’s Mercy, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Public Works Department, UMKC Departments of Economics and Psychology, and the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, and Nursing and Health Studies.
Now the institute must wait — on whether it gets CDC and NIH money to go full bore on its plans, and on when people can resume more normal living and head to jobs, doctor’s appointments and other activities.
‘They miss recess’
Another project is Youth Engagement in Sports, or YES, led by Joey Lightner and Amanda Grimes, UMKC assistant professors in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. When their proposal received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Grimes described the need to increase activity in middle school students.
“The evidence is very clear that American youth suffer from high rates of obesity, inactivity and poor nutrition,” said Grimes, who has a master’s degree in health science and a doctorate in community health.
“Adolescence seems to be a critical time in a child’s life where behaviors are learned or reinforced. Girls are particularly prone to low rates of physical activity during adolescence.”
The YES program will help students at two Kansas City middle schools, Central and Northeast, said Lightner, who has a master’s in public health with an emphasis in physical activity, and a Ph.D. in kinesiology.
According to Lightner, sixth- through eighth-graders are in a tough place between elementary and high school. “In talking with them, we found out they miss recess. They don’t get to play anymore. And they’re suddenly supposed to be adults, often without all the information they need on health and nutrition.”
One goal of the institute is to come up with innovative programs, and YES is certainly that.
“So after school, we’re going to give them a big, healthy snack and then there’s a physical activity intervention — they get to play,” Lightner said. “We’re going to offer competitive and non-competitive games, because we’ve found that some students gravitate to one kind of sport or another.”
By reaching out to the students and their schools, the program also embodies the institute’s emphasis on community engagement. And it draws heavily on another institute strength — collaboration.
TMC’s Mobile Market, which brings healthy foods to underserved areas, will give students a weekly bag of produce along with recipes. Children’s Mercy consulted on the program, providing its expertise with young people’s health. The Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation will help with the sports activities.
And Lightner, as director of the UMKC Public Health Program and a new bachelor’s degree under it, has recruited undergraduate students to help gather data — and get first-hand experience in devising and tracking the sorts of programs that could become integral in their careers.
The program’s aim is to help at least 300 students at the schools in summer sessions, and then again in the fall. Of course, the level of disruption and other unknowns caused by COVID-19 make it hard to plan. But when school is back in full swing, Lightner wants YES to be making a difference.
“We know this is a pivotal time for students, especially girls,” Lightner said. “Peer groups are really important; there’s a mentality of, ‘If my friends are doing it, I’ll do it.’ So if we get them engaged in physical activity with their friends at this age, they’re likely to continue. And so many benefits, from physical and mental health to staying in school and achieving academically, have been demonstrated.”
Seeding other efforts
Another goal of the institute is to communicate across the university and among hospitals, government health agencies and community groups. A database is being compiled for training and other resources, along with opportunities to collaborate.
The institute’s new website will be a clearinghouse for everything from health indicators to grant opportunities and processes. That could help community groups connect, for example, with the Health Forward Foundation, a Kansas City fund that promotes healthy communities.
The institute also will be awarding mini-grants, with the aim of giving several community groups a few hundred dollars each for health-related training, software, added staff help and other basics.
Overcoming health disparities is a huge task, made more daunting by the COVID-19 disruptions. But BerkleyPatton and other Health Equity Institute partners have had success in the past and will keep looking for new ways to reshape access to health care.
“It will be a while before we know how much damage the pandemic has done,” she said. “But we do know that research programs that involve people in improving their own health can make a real difference, and it’s going to take all the innovative, collaborative efforts we can build to help those most affected.
Three members of the UMKC community with expertise in emergency medicine and public health have been appointed by Mayor Quinton Lucas to the Kansas City Health Commission.
Erica Carney, M.D., was appointed co-chair of the commission, which provides oversight for the city’s Community Health Improvement Plan and fosters collaborative community efforts in the wider metropolitan area. Lucas said Carney’s work had been instrumental in the city’s response to COVID-19 and collaboration with area health providers.
Carney is a graduate of the UMKC School of Medicine’s innovative six-year B.A./M.D. program, an assistant professor in emergency medicine, an emergency care physician at Truman Medical Centers and the medical director of emergency medical services for the City of Kansas City.
“I was fortunate enough to complete my emergency medicine residency at UMKC, where I served as one of the emergency medicine chiefs,” Carney said. “I found my love for emergency medical services after responding to the Joplin tornado.”
Carney said her areas of interest included improving survival rates for out-of-hospital heart attack patients from lower socioeconomic ZIP codes, improving health care for people who need and use the system the most, and improving public safety, including response to disasters and special situations such as COVID-19.
“The best defense to the unknown is a united front in the name of public protection, and I truly feel that our region is leading the way,” Carney said.
The mayor also appointed to the commission Joseph Lightner, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor and director of the Bachelor of Science in Public Health Program at the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies, and Austin Strassle, a housing stabilization specialist at Truman who earned his bachelor’s degree in urban studies/affairs from UMKC in 2016.
Lightner has helped launch the School of Nursing’s undergraduate public health degree and worked to involve undergraduates in innovative research bringing fitness and nutrition programs to area schools. In his research and outreach, Lightner has collaborated with community groups and institutions including Kansas City schools and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Health Department.
Strassle, who also has a master’s in city/urban, community and regional planning from the University of Kansas, has worked for three and a half years at Truman as a mental health caseworker. He also was the leader of a successful community campaign to get the Kansas City Council to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors by licensed medical practitioners.
The mayor, in making his appointments, said it was important to have “experts in outreach to at-risk communities” on the commission, along with “medical professionals with specialties in trauma, infectious disease treatment, pediatric and prenatal care; supporters for survivors of domestic violence; advocates for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; educators; long-time community health reformers; and more.”
What could be better for your fitness than taking part in the 47th Annual Hospital Hill Run? How about doing it with a healthy discount on your entry free?
The UMKC Health Sciences District is once again a sponsor for the race, which will be June 6 this year. Through the sponsorship, all UMKC running enthusiasts, faculty, staff, students and alumni can get 20 percent off on registration for any race distance. Just register here and use the code WPFCUMKC20.
Kansas City’s Crown Center again will be the start and finish locations for all three race distances – 5K, 10K and half marathon.
Over the years, more than 170,000 athletes of all levels from across the world have participated in this event. Originated by UMKC School of Medicine founder Dr. E. Grey Dimond, M.D., the Hospital Hill Run served as host to the first USATF National Championship half marathon in 2002. In 2013, the race was recognized by Runner’s World Magazine as the 11th best half marathon in the United States.
UMKC faculty, staff, students and alumni who aren’t participating in the races may serve in one of many volunteer roles. Volunteers are the backbone of the Hospital Hill Run. Individuals and groups are needed to help unwrap medals; pack post-race food packets; sort, stack, and pass out t-shirts; distribute race bibs; set up and staff aid stations; cheer and steer participants on course; award medals; hand out wet towels, food, and hydration at the finish line; and help with event clean up. Volunteers can register here.
Dramatic collaboration shows the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV
Gus Frank begins to share his story with a group of Kansas City teenagers. For about 20 minutes, he describes how this local high school basketball player discovered that he is HIV-positive and must now live with consequences.
But the story is not really his own. It is, however, the unnerving and true story of a Kansas City teen whose life has been dramatically changed forever.
Frank is actually a fourth-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine acting in the production, “The Dramatic STD/HIV Project.” The partnership brings together health professions students from UMKC, the University of Kansas and Coterie Theatre actors to provide Kansas City teens with the facts about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
“Some of the highest STD rates are among our youth and young adults ages 15 to 24. Education, knowledge and prevention are an important step in changing this risk to our youth.” – Stefanie Ellison, M.D., faculty at the UMKC School of Medicine and medical director on the project
In the roughly hour-long program — a 15- to 20-minute scripted presentation followed by an often-intense question-and-answer period — a professional actor from the Coterie pairs with a medical, pharmacy or nursing student to discuss the dangers of the diseases with audiences from eighth grade through high school.
“We’re there to inform the youth of Kansas City,” said Frank, now in his second year with the project. “We’re not doing this to tell them what they should do, but to inform them of the facts. We want them to be able to make their own informed decisions when the time comes.”
Evolution and impact
Joette Pelster is executive director of the Coterie Theatre and a co-founder of the project. She started the program with the theatre’s artistic director Jeff Church, an adjunct theater instructor at UMKC, and Christine Moranetz, then a faculty member at the University of Kansas Medical Center. That was 26 years ago when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, becoming the one-time leading cause of death among Americans ages of 25 and 44.
Wanting to create an educational program with credibility, Pelster reached out to the local medical community for help. She first enlisted aid from the University of Kansas School of Nursing. The UMKC School of Medicine joined the program in 2004, followed by the UMKC School of Pharmacy in 2008 and the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies in 2015.
“We wanted to do something that would have an impact,” Pelster said. “A lecture wasn’t going to do it. This was a perfect partnership because their weakness was our strength. We brought the acting, they brought the medical content and credibility. That’s why it’s lasted so long.”
“We’re there to inform the youth of Kansas City. We want them to be able to make their own informed decisions when the time comes.” – Gus Frank, a fourth-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine in his second year of acting in the program
UMKC faculty members Stefanie Ellison, M.D., at the School of Medicine and Mark Sawkin, Pharm.D., at the School of Pharmacy, serve as medical directors. They provide the actors with training on such things as current trends in infection rates, symptoms, testing and treatment. They also compile and routinely update a huge binder loaded with information to prepare the actors for what might be thrown at them during the question-and-answer portion of the program. Each actor has a copy of the binder that is updated throughout the year and training updates occur at least twice a year so that troupe members have current facts to share with at- risk students.
“UMKC was very influential in our talking about STDs because the incidence rate was rising so high,” Pelster said. “They are integral to the project and training for the question-and-answer periods that are vital to the project.”
“This is still relevant 25 years later,” Ellison said. “Some of the highest STD rates are among our youth and young adults ages 15 to 24. Kansas City has an increased incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Nationally, one in five new HIV diagnoses is in patients ages 13 to 24, and 20 percent of new diagnoses are among patients from ages 14 to 19. Education, knowledge and prevention are an important step in changing this risk to our youth.”
Since 2008, the program has averaged more than 210 presentations a year in junior highs and high schools throughout the Kansas City Metro area. Through last school year, it had been presented 4,495 times, reaching more than 194,000 Kansas City teenagers.
This year’s cast includes 14 UMKC medical students, two UMKC pharmacy students, one UMKC nursing and health studies student, two University of Kansas nursing students and 17 professional Coterie actors, one a graduate of the UMKC theatre program.
“I would share with them that this (prescription) is something you’ll have to take the rest of your life; you’re stuck with it. Just being able to embed that in their memory by telling these kids was really helpful.” – Krista Bricker, a fourth-year UMKC School of Pharmacy student who was among the cast of student actors a year ago
Every presentation pairs one male and one female of different ethnicities, helping to make the team more relatable to its audience. Each actor follows one of six different scripts to present the true story of a Kansas City teen that has contracted an STD or HIV/AIDS.
The productions require little theater other than the actors’ monologues, slides projected on a wall or screen behind them and music to help present each story. They take place in intimate settings of a single classroom of maybe 15-20 students to auditoriums filled with as many as 100 or more students. The actors say the small classroom sessions sometimes produce the most intense interactions because the students in their smaller, tight-knit setting become less inhibited during the Q&A periods.
“It feels like we’re talking student to student,” said Madison Iskierka, also a fourth-year medical student. “It doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in a lecture listening to someone preach about whatever you’re learning. It’s very personal and I like that.”
Frank admits feeling some early awkwardness when talking about such a sensitive subject with a young audience. But that faded after a few presentations.
“It’s something that we need to make not weird,” he said. “We need to destigmatize all the sexual education about HIV and all other STDs. If we could make those things something that is easier to talk about and comes up in conversation more often, it would probably make people more aware and more willing to get tested and get treated if they do have something.”
The actors are trained to hit on a list of key points during the question and answer sessions to highlight abstinence as the only sure way to avoid contracting infections, as well as discussing risky behaviors and sources of transmitting the diseases.
“We wanted to do something that would have an impact. A lecture wasn’t going to do it. This was a perfect partnership…we brought the acting, they brought the medical content and credibility. That’s why it’s lasted so long.” – Joette Pelster, executive director of the Coterie Theatre and co-founder of the project
Krista Bricker, a fourth-year UMKC pharmacy student, was among the cast of student actors a year ago. She said she often leaned on her pharmacy background and honed in on the medications when sharing the hard reality of what is involved for patients living with these diseases.
“I would share with them that this is something you’ll have to take the rest of your life; you’re stuck with it,” she said. “Just being able to embed that in their memory by telling these kids was really helpful.”
Frank reflects on the story of the local teen he portrays. He is determined to get the details as perfect as possible during each presentation because if not, he says, “I’m messing up someone’s personal story.”
And for the young people hearing that story, Frank has one more message: “This could have been anyone. It could have been your classmate. It could have been you.”