Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UTSA professor strives to increase health care accessibility and equity in San Antonio

UTSA professor strives to increase health care accessibility and equity in San Antonio

BE BOLD

OCTOBER 7, 2022 — In January 2021, UTSA welcomed Rhonda BeLue, Ph.D., as the Lutcher Brown Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Department of Public Health and as first associate dean for community engagement and partnerships in the College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP). As a professional committed to equity and inclusion, BeLue was thrilled to join UTSA’s newest college and to develop relationships within the San Antonio community.

“I thought that being part of HCAP and developing a new college was a great opportunity, and I also liked the idea of being at a school that’s accessible to multiple families. This is a state school and that means everybody in the community has an investment in UTSA,” BeLue said.

A professional committed to equity and inclusion, BeLue’s research is primarily focused on making health care and knowledge accessible to the community and on training the next generation of health care researchers and practitioners.

BeLue uses funds from her endowed position to hire undergraduate students to work on the research team in her SHARP (Safety-net Healthcare Advocacy, Research and Policy) Lab. This provides them with opportunities to gain competencies through training, collaborative scholarly products and by working with mentors or teams at safety-net or community-based organizations and to address urgent health care needs of the uninsured and other vulnerable persons.

“I really believe in training the next generation and creating future leaders, and my endowment has allowed me to do this by giving me the ability to hire students. I think this is some of my most important work,” expressed BeLue.

In addition to student training in the SHARP Lab, BeLue conducts applied research and community engagement activities in partnership with health care safety-net and community-based organizations to address health disparities in historically disenfranchised communities. For example, she recently worked with community-based organizations to provide COVID-19 vaccine education and improve vaccine updates among underserved communities that disproportionately suffered morbidity from the virus.

BeLue also uses her endowment to collaborate with people in other disciplines. In the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, for example, she is working with health communications faculty members to develop a toolkit to translate research, increase its accessibility and provide an opportunity for San Antonians to have input in what the university is working on. She explained that it is usually difficult to fully fund and sustain projects like this because grant funds typically support active experiments and not research translation.

“One of the things we are always concerned about in research is the continuity of funding. Sometimes, researchers need pilot funds to start a smaller project before we can apply for external fundings,” BeLue explained. “The endowment helps us by providing funds to start exploratory research. It gives me opportunities for growth in multiple ways.”

With UTSA’s new Tier One designation, BeLue believes the university must continue to go beyond doing research and writing scholarly journals that are only accessible to certain people. She plans to fulfill her personal mission by contributing to conversations around accessible health care for underserved populations and participating in research that is helping to improve the community-at-large for years to come.

Jordan Allen



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The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

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UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education .

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The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to promoting access for all. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.