Rising sophomore secures one of two spots in Dr. Harold Thompson Racial Health Equity Fellowship
After moving to the United States from Ghana at age 12, Christine Blay hopes to use her own experiences to improve her knowledge on minority healthcare, specifically in rural areas like Appalachia. Today, Blay is furthering her study at Ohio University by taking advantage of research opportunities in Athens.
Blay is a double major in nursing and public health through the College of Health Sciences and Professions, with a certificate in global health.
Upon the end of her freshman year, she was looking for fellowship research opportunities. Though she felt her young grade level could be seen as a disadvantage, she was accepted to the Dr. Harold Thompson Racial Health Equity Fellowship, along with only one other fellow. After reading about Dr. Thompson’s work and the fellowship’s area of study, she was inspired to apply.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it because I was only a freshman applying, but I knew I had to shoot my shot,” Blay said. “As my mentor Sarah Ladipo says, ‘you are the only person who limits you.’”
The fellowship takes its name after Dr. Harold “Clay” Thompson, to honor his legacy of over 40 years of medical practice in Athens County. Thompson was hired in 1979 as the first Black faculty member of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is also one of the first Black credentialed physicians to practice in Athens County, and the first African American coroner in Athens County. He is now a retired faculty member of the Heritage College.
“It’s very cool to be a part of the team and to honor him, his goal and pursuits to make sure people in rural Athens have access to quality healthcare,” Blay said.
Fellows will research rural health and racial health equity with an emphasis on the Appalachian region. This fellowship focuses on building long-term community relationships and capacity by incorporating the Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) method.
The fellowship’s goal is to engage communities of color locally in the processes to help better understand the needs and experiences faced in the local healthcare system. The research will involve building a community health advisory group, designing the research process, surveying and interviewing people living in Athens County in order to identify barriers faced to quality healthcare.
The research seeks to gather primary data that will evaluate the accessibility of the local healthcare system through local resources, health education, cultural and linguistic necessities including with disabilities. It will also evaluate how public policy and insurance impacts healthcare access, specifically when looking at minority identities.
“I’m very excited about it. Reading the description of him and his life - it’s very inspiring,” Blay said. “I hope to do a fraction of what he does, being serviceable to others, I can do that through research.”
The fellowship is sponsored by the Health and Wellness Committee of the Racial Equity Coalition of Athens County (RECAC). Blay has already participated in Mental Health First Aid Training and in August, she will attend a Rural Health Conference in Mansfield, Ohio, to connect with fellow researchers.
“I want to further my career in nursing and just do what I love, which I feel like as I grow is more public health, rural health and serving people like me, and people that don’t have as much representation as others have,” Blay said. “Whatever job I end up doing in healthcare I really want to focus on minority health and try to improve that.”
Blay describes herself as a bit of an over-achiever, partially due to her upbringing and her love for exerting herself. At 17, she earned two associates degrees in general arts and health sciences.
She also places great importance on being involved in the OHIO community.
“I think being involved in college is very important because it is how you meet a lot of people,” she said. “It’s all about making memories. You’re never going to have another four years of undergrad.”
This upcoming semester, Blay will be a learning community leader working with first-year students She is also a Templeton Scholar and LINKS mentor through the Office of Multicultural Success and Retention, in which she will mentor incoming students and guide them through their first two semesters. In addition, she will be serving as a Diversity Leadership Ambassador for the Division of Diversity and Inclusion.
Her other involvement includes serving as a board member of the University Hearing Board, and as community service chair for Unified Sisters, a multicultural women’s organization.
Beyond her busy schedule with classes, organizations and research, Blay describes that her favorite part about OHIO is the people that she’s met along the way.
“I think OU is so great in that the people are amazing,” she said. “The people that I’ve met here are amazing, and they have been my rock. They’re just very genuine and willing to help. Faculty are always willing to help and listen to you. I don’t think I would have gotten that support if I had gone to a much bigger school.”
Her advice to incoming students is to enjoy being a kid, and don’t rush growing up: “Stay up at Alden until 2 a.m. with your friends pretending to study while you’re just talking and bonding. Don’t rush the four years. Go through every opportunity and experience as it comes.”