NASHVILLE, Tenn. Pauleatha Diggs wants to make a difference.
Her journey into the healthcare field began with a desire to impact health disparities. “I’ve been drawn to specialties in medicine that have significant health disparities and have gaps in connecting with underrepresented groups,” she said.
That ambition pushed her to study medical areas where inequality exists, to address those issues and promote positive change.
After graduating from Adairsville High School in Adairsville, GA, Diggs relocated to Alabama to study neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in the field, and later earned a Master of Science Degree in Biotechnology.
She now attends the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and is studying to become a Medical Doctor candidate.
“When I was getting my Masters in Biotechnology, I discovered the issue of minority recruitment in and retention in clinical trials,” Diggs recalled. “I recognized the gap between academia and the community. Poor recruitment and retention of minorities into clinical trials is a manifestation of that gap, and I wanted to spend more time in the community after recognizing it.
“So after I finished, I worked with AmeriCorps for two years.”
AmeriCorps is a voluntary, civil society program supported by the federal government, foundations, corporations and other donors with the goal of meeting critical needs in the community. Diggs spent her first year with the nonprofit as a member, and her second as staff.
“I knew I wanted to do research and continue to engage with the community,” Diggs said.
Community engaged research
She now works with the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance as a student, dedicating her efforts to Engendering Trust in Health Care. The project, which includes MVA Executive Director Consuelo H. Wilkins, MD, MSCI as a Principal Investigator, incorporates gender, age and race to measure and increase trust among African American men.
“I want to learn the research methods of community engaged research,” Diggs said, “to find mentors engaged in this research and start seeing examples of effective academic community partnerships so I can model them in the future.”
Looking ahead, Diggs hopes to enter dermatology and further bridge the gap between underrepresented groups.
“There is a need for dermatologists who specialize in the unique needs of patients of color,” she explained, “and there is a lot of room in that specialty for increased communication and access.”
About the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance
Founded in 1999, the Alliance bridges the institutions of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Its mission is to enrich learning and advance clinical research in three primary areas -- community engagement, interprofessional education and research -- by developing and supporting mutually beneficial partnerships between Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the communities they serve. Through community engagement, the Alliance serves a large community of stakeholders including surrounding universities and colleges, community organizations, faith-based outlets and community health centers. Its interprofessional education enhances students' interdisciplinary understanding and improves patient outcomes through integrated care. The research conducted provides access to experienced grant writers and materials supporting the grant application process and facilitates grant-writing workshops.