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September 25, 2008


Sophie Davis School’s Elaine Cheng and Shumon Dhar Participate in Mayor’s Health Literacy Fellowships

NEW YORK, September 25, 2008 – For immigrants still learning English, comprehending patient-care literature from the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation [HHC] is about to get easier, thanks to two City College of New York [CCNY] students.  

This is the outcome of a summer research project conducted by Elaine Cheng and Shumon Dhar, both in their fourth-year at CCNY’s Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, under the auspices of the 2008 Mayor’s Health Literacy Fellowship Program.

Ms. Cheng, Mr. Dhar and a third Fellow, Raman Singhal of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, reviewed HHC patient education documents to ensure that they were written in easily understood “plain language.”  In addition, they organized focus groups of adult ESL [English as a Second Language] students matching the profile of the public hospital patient population to evaluate the documents. 

The focus groups offered several suggestions on how to make the health literature more comprehensible for a demographic that largely reads at a fifth grade level, said Ms. Cheng, who resides in Queens. “They often found the vocabulary to be difficult and the images used were ambiguous.”

The team presented its findings to the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education, which administers the Health Literacy Fellowship program, and to HHC.  “Based on our findings, we made recommendations to the HHC to improve the documents used in all public hospitals of New York City,” said Mr. Dhar, who hails from upstate Putnam County. 

Stefanie Trice, Senior Director of HHC's Office of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), said the Fellows’ collaboration has helped HHC create a better product.

“The Mayor’s Health Literacy Fellows supported our efforts to conduct literacy reviews of educational materials that come through our office for translation,” she said. “By gathering feedback from diverse focus groups, the students helped us eliminate the use of ambiguous symbols and some words with double meanings, like ‘skip’ (as in “don't skip a dose”), which we were using in our patient education materials.”

The HHC is the largest municipal hospital and health care system in the country.  It serves 1.3 million New Yorkers, nearly 400,000 of who are uninsured.

Ms. Cheng and Mr. Dhar were among ten top medical students from New York City and New Jersey who participated in the eight-week fellowship program.  Among the other institutions represented were Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

The Fellows, who are selected on academic merit, learn about health literacy and also improve their communication and teaching skills. In addition, they help adults learn English and improve their literacy skills by serving as teachers in adult literacy classes.

The program included seminars with leading physicians, medical researchers, literacy experts and top policy makers who are making health literacy a priority in medicine, politics, and education.  Among its goals are to help adult learners and medical students build partnerships and to create greater understanding between community members and future physicians.

Both Ms. Cheng and Mr. Dhar found the program enriching.

Mr. Dhar, the son of Indian immigrants, said: “I feel very fortunate to have had this experience of working with adult learners, some of whom could be my future patients.

“I was able to understand how important health literacy is in determining the ability of a patient to control his or her own health status.  My experience with the Health Literacy Fellows has inspired me to act as a bridge between the world of direct patient care and health policy.  I see myself advocating the importance of health literacy, not only to my medical school colleagues, but to professors and physicians across New York City.”

Ms. Cheng, whose parents emigrated from China, found the high-level exposure to the creation of public policy that she received invaluable.  “Learning how to explain concepts and making sure your students come away with the knowledge that they need to feel empowered was also very satisfying.”

About The Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education

Since 1973, the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education has offered a unique, seven-year B.S./M.D. program that integrates an undergraduate education with the first two years of medical school. After five years, students transfer seamlessly to one of six medical schools – Albany Medical College, Dartmouth Medical School, New York Medical College, New York University, SUNY Downstate School of Medicine or SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine – for the final two years. The School's mission is to increase accessibility to careers in medicine for  underrepresented groups and to train primary care physicians to serve in medically underserved communities. Around 40 percent of its approximately 360 students are African-American or Hispanic. For more information, visit http://med.cuny.edu.

About The City College of New York

For more than 160 years, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. Over 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; The School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture (SAUDLA); The School of Education; The Grove School of Engineering, and The Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. For additional information, visit www.ccny.cuny.edu.