Ana Martinez-Donate is Passionate About Working with Underserved Communities
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Since Mexican migrants and immigrants can be a mobile group, and include many who are in the United States without papers, doing public health surveys in their population can be tricky.
So health researcher Ana Martinez-Donate and her colleagues in Mexico came up with a novel way to study HIV infection rates and infection risk factors among that group - she went across the border into Tijuana, Mexico.
There, in bus stations, deportation centers and the airport, she was able to interview people on their home turf, either just before or after they journeyed to the United States. She got many of them to agree to take HIV rapid tests and answer a survey on HIV risk factors.
"People were more comfortable talking when they were in Mexico, and they were comfortable talking to us, because they knew we weren't from immigration or the Mexican government," she explains.
From this novel method, she came away with important new health information on a population of people for whom there is little good data. The survey results suggest that Mexican migrants in the U.S. have elevated risks of HIV infection and low access to health care services in the U.S.
Her approach also helped Martinez-Donate, an assistant professor in population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, earn a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the nation's highest honor for researchers early in their independent careers.
Martinez-Donate went to the White House in 2010, where President Barack Obama presented the award. She was one of 20 winners nominated by the National Institutes of Health. She has also been honored as one of the 2011 UW System Outstanding Women of Color and received the UW-Madison Outstanding Women of Color Award as well.
A native of Cuenca, Spain, Martinez-Donate joined the UW-Madison faculty in 2007, along with her husband Ricardo Serrano-Padial, an assistant professor of economics.
"My research focuses on identifying the best ways to keep people healthier for longer, and the best ways to improve care," she says.
Along those lines, in her role as a member of the UW Carbone Cancer Center's cancer control research program, she is working with six of the center's outreach clinics to better understand how to help rural patients deal with a new cancer diagnosis.
"A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and people may not have the literacy or the physical energy to deal with all the details, such as filing appeals with their insurance companies," she says.
Martinez-Donate has been meeting with focus groups of cancer clinic nurses, social workers and other providers to try to come up with a better system for meeting the needs of rural cancer patients.
"Cancer is a very complicated health condition, and it creates the need for more assistance," she says. "We are trying to come up with interventions that can make cancer care seamless and more complete for the patients."
In another Wisconsin project, she is a co-investigator on two projects that are assessing the built and nutrition environments of several communities, and seeing whether the ratio of fast food places and grocery stores contributes to the fact that two- thirds of Wisconsin adults are overweight or obese.
And, thanks to funding from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, Martinez-Donate has also been the academic partner for Cuidándome, a program led by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., to promote breast and cervical screening among Latinas in Dane County.
"Cuidándome means 'taking care of me,'" she explains, saying that Latinas have higher rates of cervical cancer and tend to present with more advanced breast cancer because they have lower rates of screening.
To help Latinas learn about screening and early detection, and educate women on the diseases, Planned Parenthood created a campaign of home health parties, led by lay health educators who are trusted members of the community.
"If you remember the old Avon home parties, they are like that, with food, games and child care available," she says.
Lay health educators promote the idea that for Latina women to better take care of their families, they first need to take care of their own health. In addition to education, the educators give out brochures in Spanish explaining where women can go for low-cost health screenings.
Martinez-Donate is currently evaluating data from a cohort of almost 350 women who went through the Cuidándome program, and is finding that they did have improved rates of seeking out Pap smears and mammograms. If the model is proven effective, it can be used by other agencies interested in serving the local Hispanic population.
Although Martinez-Donate is an award-winning young academic, she says she can relate to the disconnection that migrant women can feel. She and her husband have two young daughters, Sabina and Lola, but with her family far away in Spain, she says, "It can be a struggle to recreate all those community and family ties so far away from home."
Martinez-Donate earned her doctoral degree in health psychology from the Autonomous University of Madrid and an Expert Degree in Epidemiology from the National School of Public Health in Spain. She then came to the United States for a post-doctoral position at the San Diego State University Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health and later was a faculty member at the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University.
Martinez-Donate grew up in a small farming village in rural Spain and is part of the first generation of her extended family to attend college, so she is passionate about working with underserved communities to improve health and health literacy.
And even though it is early in her career, she is succeeding, says Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the school.
"Dr. Martinez-Donate applies state-of-the-art research techniques to solve one of the most vexing public health challenges of today - how to improve the health of our society's most disadvantaged populations," Remington says.
Date Published: 11/21/2011