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My MCW Story: Dina Garcia

Dr. Dina Garcia saw a challenge within the Mexican-origin Latino community that she wanted to address and then came up with a fun and unique way to address it

Published: January, 2016

Dr. Dina Garcia saw a challenge within the Mexican-origin Latino community that she wanted to address and then came up with a fun and unique way to address it—incidentally earning her PhD in Public & Community Health from the Medical College of Wisconsin along the way.

image_2The larger issue was health disparities and social inequities among the Latino population. The more specific challenge was obtaining information on health seeking behaviors and barriers to oral health care for Mexican-origin Latinos with diabetes. Her interest began while working as an epidemiologist for a health department near the U.S.-Mexico border, and expanded when she began her dissertation work at MCW and conducted focus groups within the community.

One way she disseminated the results of her dissertation work to the Mexican-origin Latino community was by creating the Milwaukee Diabetes and Oral Health Art Gallery with her sister, Marcela.

“The arts have historically been used by Mexican-origin Latinos in the U.S. to express cultural values, reaffirm cultural identity, and enact social change. This inspired the idea to implement the gallery with the goal of using visual art forms to bring the emerging themes of my dissertation study to life and make them accessible to individuals of varying ages and literacy levels,” said Dina, whose gallery pieces were developed by local artists. “The idea of having local Mexican-origin artists develop the art pieces was done intentionally to acknowledge the cultural wealth that exists within Milwaukee’s Latino community and to challenge the traditional interpretations of cultural capital. For me, it was very important to address issues of power and knowledge in research by disseminating the findings of my dissertation using a participatory approach that fostered community engagement.”

The gallery has seven sections, each with a different theme aimed at raising knowledge and awareness of the association between diabetes and oral health as well as the facilitators and barriers to dental care access and utilization within this community.

Dina, who recently completed her dissertation and has moved to Iowa City for a post-doctoral fellowship, will be making the gallery available online in early 2016 to expand her reach and ability to raise awareness.

Dina said she was drawn to the PhD in Public & Community Health program at MCW because of its unique curriculum that emphasizes community-based participatory research (CBPR) as an approach to address health disparities and the social determinants of health. “I was thrilled to join a program that would allow me to integrate my background in applied epidemiology and public health practice with community-based approaches to conduct health disparities research in my hometown of Milwaukee.

“MCW provided me early on with numerous opportunities to engage in mentored research projects which truly enhanced my training in both qualitative and statistical methods,” she added. “Throughout my doctoral program, I was able to work one-on-one with faculty from across departments and institutions, develop and foster relationships with community partners, and directly apply what I learned in the classroom on the field. The invaluable mentorship that I received throughout graduate experience prepared me to present my work at local and national conferences and publish my research.”

A major accomplishment that supported this research was an F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) that was received under the mentorship of her advisors Dr. Laura Cassidy from MCW and Dr. Christopher Okunseri from Marquette University.

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