Some answers to the problems of race, health and the difficulties of treating those most in need were presented yesterday at the sixth annual convocation of the Yale University School of Nursing, held at the Center for Excellence in Chronic Illness Care. Participants specifically stressed the importance of community involvement and of focusing on the patient as a whole, rather than simply on his or her illness.

About 30 faculty, students, and professionals from Yale-New Haven Hospital attended the convocation to honor three individuals in the health care community who have carried out the Center’s mission to promote “excellence in nursing care of persons with or at risk for chronic illness through the integration of practice, research, and education.”

Keynote Speaker Martha N. Hill, Dean of the John Hopkins University School of Nursing, stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to health care in her lecture titled “Strategies to Reduce Racial and Cultural Disparities in Health Care.” Using her research on hypertension among young black men as an example, Hill suggested that “community based, participatory research” is central to providing excellent care for chronic illness.

“This was a group hard to reach, hardly reached,” Hill said, referring to the 300 young black men from Baltimore’s inner city who participated in her study.

Hill conducted her research in collaboration with doctors, faculty, students and researchers at John Hopkins University, health care workers, community members, and volunteers. She said she and her colleagues strove to form relationships with the men who took part in the study and to keep them on the right track.

“[We focused] on getting back to the basics of health care — getting the patients to stay on their medications, providing them with the opportunity to improve their lives.”

Hill said five years of research indicates that the combination of laboratory research, hospital and ambulatory care, and community integration has worked, as overall hypertension among the group of patients has decreased. She discussed how though this particular group of individuals is often considered to be “high risk” — some of the participants died during the course of the study and others are currently incarcerated — 90 percent of the available participants stayed with the program, demonstrating a high level of success.

Members of the audience said Hill’s participation in the community was refreshing.

“Hill’s research is an inspirational example of what you can do by involving a whole community to help research and provide health care,” Bernadette Forget, a nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital attending the lecture, said.

Cathy Winkler, also a nurse, added that involvement in the community is a growing trend among researchers.

“Hill applied effort to draw her research from the community level, where our research needs to come from,” she said.

The Center also honored Raymond S. Andrews Jr., trustee for the Patrick & Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, and Christina Niles Beaudoin, a clinical nurse specialist for the Greater Bridgeport Community Mental Health Center. Pamela Minarik, professor at the School of Nursing, presented them with the 2004 Excellence in Caring in Chronic Illness Awards.

“You have provided for the needs of the most vulnerable population,” she said. “You have given the best care possible, in the most human way possible. Such care should not be a shining light, but the common care for all.”