In a candid conversation about diversity in healthcare, HealthMatch writer Toketemu Ohwovoriole caught up with Breanna Davis, a clinical research coordinator. Breanna channels her passion for healthcare into her advocacy for diversity and community engagement in clinical research. She takes us on her personal journey and highlights the profound impact that representation could have on the future of medicine.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
In the ever-changing landscape of clinical research, Breanna Davis emerges as a dedicated clinical research coordinator with an unwavering commitment to diversity and representation.
Her journey in healthcare began in 2012 and took an exciting turn last year when she went to her first conference hosted by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) in Orlando, Florida. ACRP is a non-profit organization that provides a sense of community, education, and credentialing programs.
Breanna recounts that attending the conference was the pivotal moment that propelled her into clinical research:
“I’ve always had an interest in research, and the conference was an eye-opener,” Breanna explains enthusiastically. “Now, it’s thrilling to be on the back end — seeing vaccines and drugs being developed before they are mass produced. Being a part of studies for life-saving vaccines feels incredible.”
Getting involved in unblinded studies was a notable experience for Breanna. She administers doses to people in vaccine trials, knowing whether they receive a vaccine or placebo. Maintaining the integrity of the trial is critical: “Patients are always curious about whether they are getting the actual vaccine or a placebo. I have to tell them, ‘I know what you’re getting, but I can’t tell you!’” she says with a chuckle.
However, it’s not just the scientific rigor that keeps Breanna engrossed; it’s the human connection.
As she settled into her role, she noticed a glaring issue — the lack of diverse representation in clinical trials, especially for African American communities. This shortcoming struck a chord, given the historical backdrop of events like the unethical 1932 USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee. This study is notorious for failing to explain the research and how the trial would work to participants (today’s standard practice known as informed consent).¹
“There aren’t many individuals who look like me in the clinical research field. From an African American standpoint, this lack of representation makes it harder for us to enter this space. If we are being tested, we need to know the effects and feel our time and input are valuable,” she explains, highlighting the crucial role of trust in medical research.
Breanna believes that breaking down these barriers requires not only an increase in diversity among researchers but also active community engagement. This is something she advocates for and practices through her work.
“We go out into the community and try to engage with people to see if they are interested in clinical trials,” Breanna explains. “If not, we try to talk to them and ask about their hesitation. Most recently, at the Baltimore Health Expo, we had a lot of individuals come up to the table and share their hesitation with clinical trials. Many people said they wanted to see clinical trials for ailments that hit the community hard. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and glaucoma, for instance.”
This feedback emphasizes the importance of cultural competency and relatability. When a clinical trial focuses on a health issue that disproportionately affects a specific community, such as diabetes in certain African American communities, having representatives who resonate with the targeted group is imperative.
“You have to get people who can relate. Imagine a company’s running a clinical trial for diabetes, and you’re trying to focus on specific communities with a higher diabetes rate. In that case, you’re going to want to send representatives who look like those people out into the community for them to come out and talk,” Breanna says with conviction. “It’s getting people who look like us to go out to the communities and say, ‘Hey, these clinical trials are for the greater good. It’s not like Tuskegee or Henrietta Lacks anymore — there are plans and protocols in place. These companies have to follow specific rules set by the FDA to get people into these clinical trials.’”
The reference to historical incidents like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the case of Henrietta Lacks highlights the deep-rooted mistrust in clinical research within African American communities. These incidents involved unethical practices and exploitation of African American people, leaving lasting scars.² ³
This history has contributed to what is sometimes referred to as “medical gaslighting,” where the concerns and symptoms of people from minority communities are dismissed or downplayed.
“Medical gaslighting is a huge thing now,” Breanna explains. “Individuals of color come into medical spaces for pain, and doctors tell them, ‘You’re not in pain. Black people can withstand a lot of pain.’ That isn’t true and has caused a lot of distrust for people of color within the medical field.”⁴
Breanna’s commitment to healthcare extends beyond her professional life. She is an advocate for genetic testing, particularly among those with a family history of cancer. For Breanna, this is personal. Her own mother battled breast and uterine cancer, and she knows the value of understanding your genetic markers in making proactive healthcare decisions.
Breanna highlights the significance of awareness and early prevention. “I encourage everyone to get genetic testing done. Knowing if you have a genetic marker for a specific type of cancer allows you to take steps to lessen your risk of developing that cancer.”
While acknowledging the benefits, Breanna also highlights the psychological challenges and critical decisions accompanying genetic testing results.
“There are certain genes, like BRCA1 and BRCA2 — if you were to have those genes, prophylactically, you would get a mastectomy or oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), so you have less chance of developing the types of cancer associated with them. While it’s great to know if you have those genes, it’s also scary. If you do come up positive, you have to think of the next steps so you don’t develop related cancers.”
Diversity among researchers and participants is critical for clinical trials to be successful and truly represent the population.
“I hope that companies and sponsors hire more people of color. We need to have more diversity within the clinical trials space because, from what I’ve seen, it’s not very diverse. We have people from different backgrounds and cultures, but there aren’t many African Americans here. I hope we get to a point in time where we can dominate this space.”
Breanna Davis is not just a clinical research coordinator but an ambassador for change. Through her unwavering dedication to diversity, community engagement, and proactive healthcare, she embodies the ethos of clinical research at its best — rigorous, inclusive, and deeply human.
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The Syphilis Study at Tuskegee Timeline l Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Toketemu Ohwovoriole is a healthcare writer who has spent the last six years creating content for companies and publications around the globe. She has been featured in The Huffington Post, Insider, Verywell, and other major publications. Her previous work delves into the mental and physical health effects of birth control, overall wellness, and sensitive women's healthcare issues.
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