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Dr. Amelia Perez, assistant professor in the SIUE School of Nursing, has spent much of her education and career researching cultural health in Hispanic populations. She was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Decatur, Ill. with her family as a child. Amelia earned her BS and MSN from SIUE, and began teaching at the university in 2003. She later earned her Ph.D. in nursing at St. Louis University.
Amelia's research focuses on perceptions of the management of hypertension in Hispanic populations. She is also active in investigating the level of health literacy that Hispanic populations have in order to address issues in health behaviors. Currently, Amelia is studying health literacy and behaviors with Hispanic students at SIUE. She is the advisor of the Hispanic Student Union, a student organization at SIUE, and is active with the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois and the Illinois Hispanic Nurses Association.
"I think it is important for SIUE students to see role models that they can identify with," said Amelia. "When you research a population, it is important to be aware of your patient's culture in order to provide high-quality service and care. You must tailor programs to their needs. If you teach them about health programs that they do not have access to, then it will be difficult for your patients to make changes."
"Being Hispanic sparked an interest that made me want to get involved with health on a cultural level, especially among Hispanic populations," Amelia said. "I saw that there was an abundance of health literacy research on the general population in the US, but not enough on Hispanics. A National Health Literacy Assessment revealed that Hispanics have the lowest levels of health literacy in the US compared to other groups. So I thought it would be helpful to focus on Hispanic populations to help their health outcomes."
When Amelia started research for her dissertation, she did a study on hypertension in Hispanics. "Many of my family members have hypertension," Amelia said. "In the Hispanic population obesity is a serious problem as well. Health literacy can influence how people manage their health and their hypertension, so I felt the need to do something to address this and hopefully help make a change in these health issues."
Amelia hopes to branch out her research to a larger population after she studies college students. "I presented my research to the SIUE School of Pharmacy and have been collaborating with them to develop an Interdisciplinary Studies course which will focus on teaching Spanish to healthcare professionals," Amelia said. "Because of the growing Hispanic population, it will be beneficial to offer health science students some basic health-related Spanish so that they can communicate better with patients who may not speak English fluently or at all and whose primary language is Spanish."