FAITH! Fostering African-American Improvement in Total Health

by Lauren Hales

While the act of churches partnering with medical institutions isn’t revolutionary, the way Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, is able to promote trust and cooperation between these two entities is worth imitating.
Dr. Brewer is a community-based participatory research investigator whose FAITH! (Fostering African-American Improvement in Total Health) program promotes heart health within the African American church. What started as a class project during her master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore has followed Dr. Brewer to her current role as a cardiologist and researcher at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

These churches have been a historical source of aid, salvation, and health services for underserved populations.

FAITH! debuted in Rochester as a 16-week multicomponent intervention program using health education delivered by Mayo Clinic colleagues, pre- and post-physical exams, and a strong community of participants who wanted to learn how to take control of their heart health. Choosing to partner with congregations for a community-based health improvement program was an intentional decision for Dr. Brewer because, “the black church is the premier institutional backbone of the African American community. It gives this community vitality in terms of their social, political, and cultural life. These churches have been a historical source of aid, salvation, and health services for underserved populations.” Dr. Brewer’s research purposefully works in tandem with community members because she prioritizes a community-based participatory research strategy. The FAITH! program has been heavily influenced by these churches with the latest change—creating a FAITH! app—being a direct result of the congregations’ requests to have a “digital component … to translate the face-to-face program to an app with the ultimate goal of having something that could be easily disseminated to improve access for people to have health education anytime.”

While the FAITH! app is still being developed, Dr. Brewer emphasizes to her participants that, “you don’t have to make every health change at once; just start with one at a time.” One small change in a congregation’s health “is a trickle-down effect if the church is living healthier and taking time for their own spiritual and mental health, then this will directly translate to the surrounding community.”

To participate in a program similar to FAITH!, Dr. Brewer encourages congregations to reach out to local teaching hospitals, medical centers, universities, and the public health department to seek opportunities with clinical studies and community outreach programs. Most of these entities have offices of diversity that work toward achieving health equity, particularly in the African American community. Take advantage!
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