A dose of better communication

After working on the West Coast and in Miami as a traveling nurse, Robin Estrada planned only to launch her career as a nurse practitioner in Lancaster, S.C., not make the sleepy town her home.

But 17 years later, she’s still there, on some days caring for the children of her original patients. A few other things happened during those years: She married, had four children and became very interested in the communication aspect of health care delivery.

“I was curious about how communication can affect health care, particularly how the implicit attitudes and stereotypes held by the health care provider can be conveyed to the patient, sometimes without any words being spoken,” she says. “I tried to be aware of that whenever I was communicating with my patients, but I hadn’t received that kind of training when I was in school.”

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, Estrada vowed she’d never go back to college. “But I I felt I could make a bigger impact on health care outcomes by doing research,” she says, and that led her to apply to the Ph.D. program in the University of South Carolina's College of Nursing.

She completed her doctoral degree this past May along with a graduate certificate from the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Her dissertation research focused on interpreter-mediated interactions between health care providers and Latinos (Lancaster has one of the fastest growing Latino populations south of Charlotte, N.C.), and her husband, a native of Mexico, helped her translate interviews.

In her last semester of academic studies, UofSC’s Office of Research named her a Breakthrough Scholar. Then the nursing college hired her as an assistant professor to teach in its doctoral degree program.

Estrada will teach a graduate-level qualitative methods course in the spring and continues to work a day or two each month in the same Lancaster clinic where she began as a nurse practitioner.

“I need to remember what it’s like — I’m not ready to let that go,” she says. Looking ahead, Estrada is focused on a research agenda that develops best practices for health care communications and a teaching agenda that passes those practices on to the next generation of health care providers.

“I want to come up with interventions to improve the health of the underserved and children,” she says, “and to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m here at USC doing health communications research but with an eye toward helping my little town. And other little towns like it.”

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