News at Medicine - April 2008 - New Canada Research Chair brings expertise in social psychology

New Canada Research Chair brings expertise in social psychology
April 3, 2008
Dr. Martha Traverso-Yepez has joined Memorial University as a Tier II Canada Research chair in Health Promotion and Community Development.

Newfoundland is already familiar to Dr. Traverso-Yepez, who spent a sabbatical from February 2004-2005 in the Division of Community Health and Humanities. Since earning her PhD in social psychology from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid in 1996, she has been working in Natal (RN), Brazil on health issues such as the subjective experience and meanings of the health-illness process and health care interventions. Her research interests include health promotion and community action in deprived contexts and the influence of social class, power relations and economic inequities on health care. She is also interested in adolescents’ health and wellbeing and vulnerable population’s health promotion and wellbeing.

Dr. Traverso-Yépez’s most recent research production is on the difficulties of dealing with social inequities in primary health care in Brazil, as they tend to seem “natural” and unquestioned among all the stakeholders, impairing the possibilities of democratic changes. She has also summarized what she sees as main contributions of a critical social psychology to the health field in a recently published book (2008): A psicología Social e o trabalho em saúde (Social Psychology and Health Care Work).

From her research experience in Brazil, Dr. Traverso-Yepez considers that the main challenge when dealing with health promotion strategies is to keep a multi-faceted approach, paying attention to the psychosocial, economical, cultural and political aspects influencing the health-illness process and interventions. She deems especially important to have the political will to support an ever going social and financial investment on health promotion initiatives. “A caring attitude and readiness to listen and to accept differences, keeping an open dialogue about all stakeholders, are key contributions from my perspective in social psychology,” she said.

As Canada Research Chair in Health Promotion and Community Development, besides contributing in the education of graduate students, Dr. Traverso-Yépez aims to develop a number of key community health empowering practices. Through a participatory action research process, she will identify and study the evolution of existing health promotion practices sponsored by health care and human service organizations or community action groups in Newfoundland and Labrador. She will investigate patterns of collaboration in organizational networks related to the health promotion practices and the community involved and evaluate and develop the capacity of these networks to achieve a co-operative relationship between available services and the community. Her goal is to contribute in the construction and development of a number of key community empowering practices to address jointly-defined target health problems.

On a long term basis, Dr. Traverso-Yépez’s aim is to develop a Center for Community Health Promotion Research and Practices at Memorial that would tackle established areas of need considered in its strategic plan, working at the same time towards promoting healthy environments and community participation in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.