Aug. 10, 2021

UCalgary researcher partnering with community to determine research priorities

Dr. Chowdhury aims to improve cardiovascular health and wellness through grassroots improvements
Researcher Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury believes patients should have a voice in research priorities and studies
Researcher Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury believes patients should have a voice in research priorities and studies

Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury, PhD, believes research should be a meaningful partnership between researchers and the community that the research aims to assist. In his latest project, Chowdhury is engaging seniors and visible minorities to identify health promotion and research priorities in cardiovascular health and wellness.

The goal is to conduct meaningful research that results in grassroots improvements in the cardiovascular health and wellness of these groups. Engaging with these groups to first identify priorities and then as research partners is of great importance to Chowdhury.

“The community lends a fresh perspective to research and should be involved in many ways such as sharing their ideas about gaps in care and research, codesigning research projects and helping to disseminate research knowledge at the grassroots level,” says Chowdhury.

Chowdhury and his team have kicked off this research project by gathering representatives from several visible minority groups, as well as seniors, to discuss the needs and priorities of these community members.

Chowdhury explains these stakeholders are key to meaningful research, and ultimately, improvement when it comes to their cardiovascular health.

“The community provides insight into the topics that are most important in their lives,” says Chowdhury. “They also weigh in on how they want researchers to be involved with them in their communities.”

So far, the feedback has opened the team’s eyes about the importance of addressing the bigger issues when working in the areas of health promotion and prevention of cardiovascular disease. 

“We went in with a narrower focus in mind regarding cardiovascular health, but the steering committee commented that cardiovascular health is not just about physical activity or healthy diet, it is about the bigger picture,” says Chowdhury. “We heard, for example, ‘If I have nowhere to live, I don’t care about physical activity. If I don’t have enough money to buy healthy food, I will have to buy junk food.’”

Chowdhury is excited about the study’s potential. He expects the results will help inform future research and initiatives within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

“Our goal is to be guided by the community,” says Chowdhury. “We are interested in knowing how to meet their needs in the areas of cardiovascular health and health promotion.” It’s important to do it together because we know these groups have different needs and different perspectives.”

Chowdhury’s passion for patient-engaged research stems, in part, from his clinical background. He trained and practiced as a primary care physician in Bangladesh. In 2008, he earned his PhD in epidemiology from Shiga Medical University in Japan. He completed two postdoctoral fellowships: one at Japan Science of Promotion of Sciences (JSPS) and one at the University of Calgary.

He began his academic career as self-described “number cruncher” specializing in epidemiology with a focus on chronic diseases. A seemingly benign comment about one of his research papers triggered five years of contemplation and learning, and ultimately sparked a change in Chowdhury’s research focus.

“I had found that our Indigenous communities are more at risk of developing diabetes, and I submitted a paper to the Canadian Medical Association Journal,” says Chowdhury. “The associate editor commented, ‘It looks like you are blaming the Indigenous community for these problems,’ and suggested I look at this issue “through a socio-cultural lens and consider historical perspectives of inequity in health.”

Today Chowdhury has a focus on immigrant and ethnic health and is highly interested in disease prevention, but with the twist of engaging the community in all his research projects.

“I feel like I earned a whole new PhD,” says Chowdhury with a laugh about adopting a patient partnership approach to his research. “It definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and it changed me, molded me.”

Chowdhury’s experience has convinced him that primary health promotion researchers must be both intellectuals and activists. Relationships are also a big focus.

“If researchers want to really change things, they have to be involved at the community level,” says Chowdhury. “When researchers parachute in for research and then parachute out, the research participants have the feeling they are being used. There are no shortcuts.”

Chowdhury explains his focus on community engagement has been made possible, in part, because the leadership within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute as well as the Cumming School of Medicine is highly supportive of conducting research in areas that are meaningful to the community.

“I am so pleased that the Libin Cardiovascular Institute has been bold to take such a ground-breaking approach of being guided by the community,” he says. 

Chowdhury says he is recruiting for this study in the coming weeks.  Anyone interested in participating in this research is encouraged to visit this site for details.

Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury, PhD, is an associate professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.