A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
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DeLawnia
Comer-HaGans

PhD, MS, MBA

Growing up, so many people in our community were constantly sick.

Taking Diabetes Personally

As DeLawnia grew up, her own research focus developed as well. She identified that it was predominantly diabetes that was damaging the lives of so many people in her life.

“I saw complications from diabetes that seemed unnecessary,” DeLawnia notes. “There always was a great divide between those who had insurance — and could see a doctor — and those who didn’t.”

In addition to seeing her mother live with diabetes, DeLawnia saw her best friend’s mother experience diabetic retinopathy — after never having been educated about the importance of receiving annual dilated eye exams. Ultimately, she died from kidney complications.

“I already had decided to focus on health disparities, but that incident solidified my decision,” DeLawnia states. “I wanted to understand why so many individuals succumb to preventable diabetes complications.”

Creating Inclusion for Vulnerable Populations

After earning an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, an M.S. in public affairs & community service at the University of North Texas, an M.S. in sociology at the University of Texas at Dallas, and a Ph.D. in public affairs from the University of Texas at Dallas, DeLawnia became well-equipped to assess all angles of access to proper diabetes care.

Now an assistant professor at Governors State University in the Department of Health Administration, DeLawnia started her 2-year New Connections grant in September 2015 by narrowing her study of health disparities in people with diabetes to one specific, under-researched subpopulation: individuals with disabilities.

By looking at diabetes and the disease’s complications among this audience, DeLawnia hopes to “shine a spotlight on a very vulnerable population,” she explains.

A population that not much light has been focused on so far, as DeLawnia showed in a recent literature review on the subject. In her search, she found a total of one article that targeted interventions for individuals with disabilities who had diabetes.

“We talk about diabetes complications among people in general, but there’s this whole subpopulation of individuals who have disabilities and diabetes — and they also experience complications. Not much has been said about them.”

By promoting greater awareness, DeLawnia hopes her research will lead to the development of preventive measures and interventions for individuals with disabilities who also have diabetes.

Protecting Research Time

For professors like DeLawnia at teaching universities, it can be challenging to dedicate time for research.

Thanks to her New Connections grant, however, DeLawnia notes that “I now have protected time to focus on conducting health disparities research.”

In addition to this time for research, DeLawnia also has benefitted from the opportunity to present her research, attend New Connections workshops and clinics, and meet other professionals whom she intends to collaborate with in the future.

“The support that this grant gives me goes beyond words,” DeLawnia affirms. “All the people I do research with, I’ve found through New Connections. We meet weekly, have support groups, and work on papers together. It’s great to have a group of people working on similar types of things.”