UArizona Nursing PhD Student Joins Prestigious National Clinician Scholars Program

April 15, 2020

On track to graduate this May, University of Arizona College of Nursing PhD student D. Anthony Tolentino has been accepted for a postdoc at the University of Michigan as part of the highly competitive and prestigious National Clinician Scholars Program (NCSP).

Although he started his academic journey intending to become a clinical lab scientist, he realized that his true passion lay in nursing. “After being a nurse for 11 years, I have grown to fully appreciate what we do, the contributions we make, the love, dedication, and passion we bring daily despite the challenges, and the difference we make to our patients, families, communities and to each other,” he told us.

With an academic focus on informatics, Tolentino was drawn to UArizona Nursing because of its high ranking, its accomplished faculty members with diverse expertise in research, and research opportunities it afforded him. We caught up with Tolentino recently to find out more about his plans as part of the NCSP program and his goals for the future.

"Diversity in research is important not only in studies but also diversity of scientists that are being trained and funded," ~ D. Anthony Tolentino, PhD student

What does it mean to you to be accepted into the 2020-2022 NCSP scholar cohort?

As a person of color and an immigrant, opportunities like this do not come easily.  I certainly did not imagine that I will be accepted into this competitive program. The cohort is racially diverse and composed of five physicians and two nurses coming from Arizona, Duke, Harvard, Michigan, and Stanford. A significant factor that attracted me to NCSP is their core value of diversity. Diversity in research is important not only in studies but also diversity of scientists that are being trained and funded. I sincerely believe in what Dr. Neil Powe from UCSF said, “Diversity in science is science done well.”

It is very humbling to be part of this cohort and NCSP. NCSP builds upon from the former physician-only RWJF Clinical Scholars Program, and I am delighted to represent nurses and Filipino-American nurses, in this program. I am anxious if I will measure up but, at the same time, eager to push my comfort zone and ready to learn and apply what UArizona has prepared me for the last four years.

What will your participation in the NCSP involve?

NCSP is a consortium of six universities - Michigan, UCSF, UCLA, Duke, Yale, and UPenn. Although each site funds its own scholars, all sites share the same training curriculum and vision and encourage strong collaboration among sites. The program is two years. The first year is mostly didactic engaging in coursework, identifying partners in research, and completing specific research milestones. At the end of the first year, scholars can earn a Master's degree. At Michigan, we will receive a Master’s degree in health and healthcare research. The second-year will be dedicated solely to completing research.

Can you provide more details on your project, developing interventions to manage Type-2 diabetes in Filipinx-/Americans?

Despite advances in technology and diabetes care, racial minorities, such as Filipinx-/Americans (FAs), continue to experience a lower quality of health due to health disparities. The CDC reports the prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) among FAs as the highest age-adjusted rate among Asian-Americans. In response to the national mandate to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities, I am proposing to develop a technology-based intervention (TBI) to reduce the burden of diabetes among FAs by leveraging knowledge from nursing, information, and cognitive sciences. The TBI is yet to be determined, but I am looking into a scalable and accessible technology such as a mobile phone application, the use of augmented reality or virtual reality. The intervention will target self-care behaviors such as eating, exercise, coping, and medication adherence.

What was your inspiration for this study?

My inspiration for my postdoc study is my father and my FA community. My father died due to complications of Type 2 diabetes while I was in the program, and I wish I had done more to help him. This research is a tribute to him, and I hope to help the broader FA community moving forward. Often, FAs are aggregated with other Asian Americans which masks the specific health needs of FA. Additionally, in many studies, FAs are underrepresented; therefore, there is a critical need for community representation and participation to develop effective and targeted interventions.

Are you anticipating particular outcomes from your research? 

I am hoping to examine how TBI can improve T2D management and health outcomes among FAs, and comparing a self-managed non-technology based program to the TBI that I will be developing. If the current pandemic ends up longer than predicted, we might see some fallout from the management of chronic diseases. Consequently, we will probably see a shift from the traditional models of care that we now have to utilize more technology-based practices such as virtual care and remote patient monitoring. I hope that we can develop high-quality TBIs that are non-inferior or at least equivalent to current face-to-face standards of care with diabetes management.

What are your long-term goals for this research?

My longer career-term goal is to design and implement user-centered technology products or interventions that address individual and community health issues. I see myself as a change agent in advocating for underrepresented populations. I want to assure that my community is heard. I also want to leverage technology to create new models of care by developing theory-based, nursing-led, scalable, innovative technological solutions that can improve the lives of people – one person at a time.

Beyond your participation in the NCSP program, what are your hopes and goals for the future?

This is a tough question for me to answer, as I typically don’t plan. If you asked me two years ago if I would be starting a postdoc program, I would have said no. That being said, I do hope to start a research career as a tenure-track faculty member at a university. However, I have this strong urge to continue practicing informatics at a healthcare system. I have been a nurse informaticist for more than a decade, and my everyday practice has informed my predoctoral research. My goal is to find a dual appointment – both at a university and health system. If our physician colleagues can maintain clinical practice while being a faculty member, why can’t we do that as nurses? Ultimately, I want to practice healthcare (be that in research, teaching, service) that is grounded and focused on what is essential to our patients, clients, and our communities. One thing that I will never forget that Dr. Gephart instilled in me is to always go back to what matters the most when we are doing research --- our patients. Nursing, after all, is about health, the environment, and our patients.