Dr. Jennifer Cunningham-Erves: Engaging The Alliance and The Communities We Serve

Dr. Jennifer Cunningham-Erves: Engaging The Alliance and The Communities We Serve

Our Faculty Spotlight celebrates the institutional partners who make the vital connections that drive the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance’s (MVA) collaborative learning environment.

Alliance Affiliate

Jennifer Erves, PhD, MPH, MAED, MS, CHES, is a familiar face around the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance (MVA). Since moving to Nashville in 2013 to complete her postdoctoral training with the Meharry-Vanderbilt Community Engaged Research Core, her perennial involvement in MVA programming has helped the Alliance build community ties.

“The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance supports the collaboration between Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the community to support initiatives that seek to improve existing health disparities,” she says. “It serves as an information hub for researchers along the translational continuum, whether it is making connections with other researchers or helping researchers build trust and partnerships within the community to conduct research or serve in advisory capacities.”

Today, Dr. Erves is a member of the newly launched MVA Faculty Affiliate Program. She explains, “The transition to independent research can be challenging as one learns to navigate academia, build a research team, and establish collaborations.” Dr. Erves believes that the MVA provides invaluable support for researchers in all stages of their careers.

Current Research

Addressing HPV Vaccine Hesitancy
Along with her collaborators at Meharry Medical Group Pediatrics and Vanderbilt DOT 8 Pediatrics, Dr. Erves is exploring ways to address human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine hesitancy among parents using a tailored communication application—a mobile phone-based tool that sends parents tailored pre-visit information to help them make informed decisions.

“Parents and providers do not always have time for these important conversations,” Erves explains. “We want to answer parents’ questions or help them identify questions to ask their providers about the HPV vaccine pre-visit.”

The hope is that this will lead to increased vaccine uptake and improved communication during patient-provider encounters.

Dr. Erves believes that findings from this project have the potential to transform how we educate parents about vaccines their children need.

With COVID-19 cases again rising across the country, Dr. Erves calls attention to a campaign in Davidson County for individuals who are undecided about the COVID-19 vaccine or are unsure whether they should get the booster.

“We have gone through an extensive process of working with community leaders, community members, a communication firm, and a multi-disciplinary research team to develop this campaign,” she says. “‘Your COVID Vax Facts’ is available to answer all your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.”

Community Matters

Dr. Erves is an expert in community-engaged research, which is reflected in her years working in Nashville to build relationships with community partners. She fundamentally believes that community engagement is important in research, regardless of the type of research. “Establishing equity in community-academic partnerships is critical to building relationships and sustainability,” she says.

While completing her dissertation at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Erves reflects on an informative experience when a pastor shut the doors on her because he was tired of institutions always coming in and taking data for research purposes.

“As I continue to work with the community, I listen to what they need and want,” she explains. “I have worked to build trust with my community partners and together we make shared decisions as we conduct the research process. I always want the work that we do to be mutually beneficial.”

Beyond that, Dr. Erves wants to collaborate with her colleagues who are interested in community engagement: “That way, we can develop strategies and tools to engage and collaborate with community leaders and members of diverse backgrounds to address health disparities!”

Dr. Erves is an associate professor at Meharry Medical College in the Department of Internal Medicine and an adjunct assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She would like to thank all her community partners for their passion and support.

About the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance is a collaborative initiative between Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Since 1999, faculty, researchers, health professionals, students, and community members have worked with the MVA to address health disparities. The MVA is committed to cultivating strategic partnerships, building community capacity, and facilitating research and learning opportunities. We seek to promote community resources and assets that strengthen connections between our institutions, partners, and the populations they serve.