I didn’t plan to get involved in the research world; it happened by chance. A local community member was helping the High Plains Research Network (HPRN), a network of healthcare groups in rural Colorado. With support from PCORI, HPRN translates the best scientific evidence into clinical practices that help rural communities. HPRN was in search of a recognizable face to put on their poster promoting colon cancer testing in rural Colorado. Since I was the local hardware-store manager, the community member asked me.

I thought my contribution would begin and end with my picture: I was wrong. Seeing my picture on the poster, my neighbors and friends started visiting me at work and asking me about colon cancer and my experiences with it. I had no personal experiences to share, so instead I listened. I heard them tell their own stories and express their concerns. I wanted to help, so I began working with HPRN and became a member of its community advisory council.

I believe the more we involve communities in research, the stronger the partnership will be between doctors and patients.

What I brought to the table was the ability to reach my community. What I saw made me realize how difficult it is for researchers to get the word out about important health information. I knew I could support research projects in my community by simply doing what I do daily: engage with my community—at the hardware store, at the ball game, at work, and at the barber shop. So instead of just talking about the weather, we can have a real conversation about colon cancer, or other HPRN projects.

I believe the more we involve communities in research, the stronger the partnership will be between doctors and patients. PCORI’s work is so important because it engages stakeholders in research and gives community members the responsibility to become active partners in their own health. My goal is to help HPRN bridge the gap between researchers and communities, and to get the word out.

Sergio Sanchez is a community partner and member of the Colorado-based High Plains Research Network's (HPRN) Community Advisory Council, which helps identify and guide the research projects done by HPRN.

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