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Anders, UW Extension regional community development specialist and member of the research team. UW photo

LARAMIE – University of Wyoming medical students will travel Wyoming in August to interview those who are at-risk and underrepresented in public health to create situation-unique solutions to increase health care access across the state.

The interviews are the first phase of a three-part, $20,000 grant, Unlocking Community Health Access Together, one of five projects selected as part of the grand challenges initiative created by UW. The program aims to benefit UW and the state.

“The UCHAT Project seeks to bring all Wyomingites together to discuss challenges and opportunities in health access and ultimately select targeted health improvement strategies for our diverse communities,” said Anders Van Sandt, UW Extension regional community development specialist and member of the research team.

Information gathered will be used to focus virtual roundtable discussions, the second and most important phase, said Van Sandt.

The at-risk and underrepresented groups have already been identified through previous Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) projects.

“We’re not expecting to get all the answers from these initial interviews,” said Van Sandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This is to identify those barriers and the opportunities to engage with these groups so we can get them to participate in the next phase of the project.”

Students are from the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) medical education program and health sciences.

That information will bring those at-risk and underrepresented to the forefront.

Anders said blanket policies that apply to everyone do not make sense.

“We want something a little more nuanced because we have some urban areas and some very rural areas in Wyoming and everywhere in between,” he said. “That is really the meat of the project, the second phase, identifying these strategies and building some sort of common ground around these strategies.”

Potential strategies created from the information gathering will be presented.

“They can voice their opinions, rank the proposed strategies and talk about why they rank them as such. And they can hear from other people,” said Anders. “Then we’ll present them with the trade-offs of each strategy, and they can go through the process again.”

“The idea is that through the deliberative process, you learn something about your neighbor,” said Van Sandt. “And even if you don’t agree with the strategy, in the end you will see how that strategy was selected. You see that process and why some people believe that that is better.”

The information will be used to create tools, ways to collaboratively assist communities achieve their unique goals, which is the grant’s third phase, said Van Sandt.

Project collaborators besides WWAMI and the WDH include Juliet Daniels, UW Extension community development educator in Laramie County; Mariah Ehmke, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; Tim Robinson, director, WWAMI program; Felicia Turner, WDH performance improvement manager; Wyoming county health departments; the Wyoming Rural and Frontier Health Unit; and the student group Health Equity Circle.

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