Samantha Garcia, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences is the recipient of $100,000 from the Loan Repayment Program (LRP) for Health Disparities Research funded by the National Cancer Institute. The program invests in early-stage investigators to support their pursuit of cutting-edge research and health discoveries with financial support towards their educational debt. Garcia is a first-generation college student in our T32 postdoctoral program on Multidisciplinary Training in Ethnic Diversity and Cancer Disparities, whose research focuses on cancer prevention, Latino health disparities and implementation science.
“The field of cancer health equity will greatly benefit from bright, motivated scholars like Dr. Garcia, who can innovate future strategies for cancer control in the communities that need them most,” expresses her postdoctoral mentor and primary sponsor Jennifer Tsui, PhD, MPH, associate professor of population and public health sciences.“ I have no doubt she will excel as a postdoctoral scholar and future leader in the health disparities research field and I look forward to mentoring her during the award period.” Distinguished Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, serves as her co-sponsor for this award.
Garcia’s inspiration towards public health began in her early years. Growing up in Los Angeles in a Mexican-American household, she began to take notice of health disparities that were prevalent in her community. She decided to pursue higher education to address these inequities by focusing on how sociocultural factors impact health outcomes. In particular, the disproportionate burden of cervical cancer among minorities and underrepresented groups. “Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, compared to other racial and ethnic groups and have the second highest cervical cancer mortality rate,” she reveals.
One of the aims of the LRP that she has been awarded is to examine the sociocultural variable of social capital to understand how individuals, networks and interactions within the Hispanic community can potentially serve as buffers for cervical cancer outcomes. “Studies have shown the efficacy of social capital interventions, and while they have been implemented in the community setting, this has not been realized in clinics. Similarly, they haven’t been tailored specifically towards cervical cancer prevention,” she explains. With this award, she hopes to extend her multilevel cancer disparities research to evaluate how social capital can facilitate evidence-based practices in the context of health care delivery to reduce cancer health disparities in a future career development award.
Through her training in implementation science, she hopes to uncover how health care systems and physical and built environments influence the adoption of evidence-based strategies for improving cancer care delivery and outcomes. Prior to becoming a postdoctoral fellow, Garcia investigated the uptake and completion of the HPV vaccine among foreign-born and US-born Mexican American young adult female patients. Her research assessed individual, interpersonal and community factors which contributed to HPV vaccine refusal among this demographic and also explored differences by nativity status. She considered how factors such as cultural/religious beliefs, family norms, provider communication, access to care and exposure to negative HPV messaging influenced these patients. Her findings uncovered the importance of clinic-level factors associated with HPV vaccine adherence.
“When I started my PhD, I focused on HPV vaccinations because it’s the most upstream primary prevention effort when it comes to cervical cancer screening,” she shares. Next, she explored the association between sociocultural factors and HPV vaccine uptake. Now, she is curious about the extent of these factors on cervical cancer outcomes and whether they can explain the inequities experienced in cervical cancer outcomes (i.e., mortality, diagnosis, follow-up, treatment). In this phase of her research, she will understand the fundamentals of implementation science theory and methods; establish expertise in evidence-based strategies and best practices proven to effectively increase HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening among Latinas; foster community partnerships; and identify community resources to buffer HPV-associated cancer disparities.