Tackling Health Care Disparities
through Innovation
Deejay Zwaga
in the community. This will be paired with community engagement to increase people’s motivation to start using program resources and managing their own health. I
am partnering with the county to secure grant funding to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of the program. If successful, I do hope to pitch the program to
libraries here in Dane County.
Prior to this, I worked as a research project manager, managing nationwide public health and healthcare research projects aimed at improving quality of care or
testing the effectiveness of improved healthcare models and healthcare interventions. One of my favorite projects in this role was managing the clinic recruitment,
data collection, and patient recruitment for a PCORI study that integrated behavioral health into primary care clinics. It would be great to see more use of electronic
health record data in public health settings, as well as developing innovative ways to utilize technology to bring creative and cost-effective solutions to the major
issues facing public health and medicine. Working in this position gave me a unique perspective in the potential that electronic health record data can give us to
better identify health needs, as well as the potential for technological advancements to propel health forward. Seeing the unique ways that different research teams
and the organization leverage electronic health record data to explore population health was impressive and public health fields could really benefit from partnerships
with area clinics to get access to this type of data.

Q: What networks or organizations have you personally and professionally benefitted from here in Madison?  
A: In college, I joined the Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals. This further drove my ambition to help develop programs and opportunities geared
towards improving population health, education, and reducing poverty. It was incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by professionals with similar goals who are
actively working to improve opportunities for minorities and low-income individuals in Madison.
I recently joined two other professional organizations, The Wisconsin Health Watch Coalition and the Wisconsin Public Health Association. I have not benefited from
either organization quite yet because I am a new member, but I do have plans to become a stronger community and policy advocate through these organizations. I
would also like to learn as much as I can from health professionals who have many years of experience working in public health.

Q: What current issues affecting our city are important to you and why?
A: Health disparities are the most important issues to me because the issue of health disparities is closely related to virtually all sectors and every aspect of a person’
s life and eliminating disparities will save countless lives, improve communities and quality of life, and have a profound effect on healthcare systems. Wisconsin
particularly has some of the highest rates of health disparities among African Americans. Health disparities are a disproportionate burden of disease. Minority
populations face higher rates of disease for numerous chronic and infectious diseases, although racial and ethnic populations are not the only populations impacted
by disparities. Our education system, economy, workforce, politics, poverty, and criminal justice system all contribute to staggering rates of health disparities, making
it an issue that impacts every sector of society. The issue is much more complex than individual health choices. We also must consider the environment that
contributes to a person’s health.
At the very forefront of this issue is health equity. We need to go into communities and bring health services to them. We need a health force that embraces and
completes adequate bias training where every professional is making purposeful steps towards an inclusive healthcare system. We need innovative and affordable
solutions that help empower community members and give them the tools to manage their own health. We do not need any more cookie cutter health promotion
programs. What works for one population or community may not work for another. This is contributing to the inequities. We see all these brilliant and innovative
community health interventions, but there is a major gap in implementation into communities. It is not that the public health and medical sectors are not trying, but we
cannot copy and paste interventions from one population or community to the next and expect it to work. Interventions need to be modified to fit the needs of the
population it is meant to serve.
We also do not take advantage of our community members enough in tackling these issues. We try to build programs that work, but sometimes as professionals, we
can forget to include the people we are serving in the discussions. We need to bring these conversations to the communities, so they can provide insight into what
they need, as well as be a part of the solution. Any opportunity to mobilize and empower communities to be a part of the solution can have a bigger impact than simply
bringing a health promotion program into the community.

Q: What are some of the civic engagements you are involved in?
A: I am interested in starting some health promotion programs through the public library system. I joined my local neighborhood association. There is a committee
within the association that advocates for library programs. I am currently researching, refining, and preparing proposals for a few programs that can be volunteer-run
health promotion programs. There is a lot of potential for reach to populations impacted by health disparities by utilizing libraries.
Additionally, I would like to start a college preparatory service in community centers and libraries specifically geared towards assistance with college application and
scholarship essays. In general, this is not always well-covered in schools and students are not taught how to pitch themselves to admissions to increase their
chances of acceptance. In the long term, we can make better strides towards improved community health by getting all our youth graduated and in a position to pursue
an affordable college education.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment as a young professional in our community?
A: My biggest accomplishment in the Madison community was a few years ago, I organized a fundraiser and thanksgiving food drive to provide a free, home cooked
meal for homeless and low-income residents in Madison at the Catholic Multicultural Center. I organized a group of volunteers to cook everything from scratch. Many
of the community members who came for the meal shared that they haven’t had a Thanksgiving meal in years and it was an emotional experience for many. Seeing the
joy it brought people and watching this event bring a community together makes me want to do this type of event again.

Q: What advice would you give to young professionals of color who are new to Madison?
A: My biggest advice is not to doubt yourself and do not focus so much on comparing yourself to others. Self-doubt can be a significant barrier to a young professional.
Often, we are working with professionals who have established careers and it can be intimidating when you start comparing your accomplishments to others. You
may come across a lot of individuals with many degrees or titles on their resume because of UW-Madison having such a big presence in the city, but that doesn’t
make you any less valuable if you don’t have equivalent education and leadership titles. Your perspective as a professional of color is invaluable to solving many of
Deejay Zwaga grew up in Dane County, having graduated from our flag ship university with a Bachelor’s of Science.  After
graduating from UW-Madison, Dallas, Texas drew her away for a position in public health and medicine. Since then, she has
been innovating ideas to address health care disparities through a program that works through libraries to reach vulnerable
populations. The lure of the south and warm weather were not enough to keep her from returning to her roots, where she hopes
to bring dynamic programs that increase health care access to underserved members of the greater Madison community. Learn
more about Deejay in this month’s YP Spotlight.

Q: Where were you born and what brought you to Madison, Wisconsin if you are not from here.
A: I was born and raised in the Madison area. I spent most of my childhood in Fitchburg and Verona. I did my undergraduate
studies at UW-Madison majoring in psychology and biology.  Then I moved to Dallas, Texas for a public health and medicine
research project manager position.  While in Dallas, I applied for a graduate program at the University of Southern California for
a Master’s of Public Health, with a concentration in bio statistics and epidemiology.  I finish the program in a month. I’m back
and plan to become a part of Dane County’s many robust healthcare management systems.

Q: What are you doing professionally in the workforce?
A: For the past six months, I have been working for a county health department in Richland County, Ohio, as a graduate intern.
In this internship, I re-designed a library community health program to expand reach to better serve populations impacted by
health disparities. The library checks out blood pressure cuffs and bikes to residents, but the libraries close early in many
locations. The program data indicated reach was not very effective. I leveraged partnerships with a few businesses to build
custom technology to make bike share kiosks available to low-income communities for free using library cards as a form of
payment, as well as a vending machine to dispense blood pressure cuff kits using library cards. These would be placed directly
our community issues. Find the courage to speak up and take initiative in all settings you are
I would also advise people who are new to Madison to join a professional organization or find
a young professional meet-up to start networking and building professional connections in the
city. Another tip is to consider volunteering for board positions and other key leadership
positions in volunteer-run community organizations to add leadership experience to your
resume and provide an avenue for you to get to know professionals with similar goals. This
will also give you an opportunity to get to know the Madison community.

Q: What is an interesting fact about you that most people do not know?
A: I once free-climbed a mountain in Santa Barbara, California but I had no idea I was going to
free-climb that day. I was invited out for a hike. Being from the Midwest and never spending
time in the mountains, I thought a hike meant a casual walk through the woods and a possible
slight incline up a bluff or small rock formation. A member of our group was an avid rock
climber with an impressive resume in terms of climbing experience. She served as an
unofficial hiking guide. Or so I thought. We lost the trail and ended up in a narrow valley at the
foot of a dried-out waterfall. Our guide mentioned we could climb up one of the mountains and
down the other side to get back on the trail. I misunderstood and thought we were merely
climbing up around the waterfall. We started the climb, but then the group kept going. Since I
was new to the area and inexperienced, I did not want to climb back down to the valley alone.
A few hours later we were near the peak. We climbed so high, we could not even see the
valley or the people below anymore. Although I would never recommend anyone climb that
high without equipment, experience, and safety plans in place, climbing was an incredible
experience. It was not an experience I really appreciated until my feet were safely on the
ground again in the valley, but it was still one of my favorite traveling experiences to date.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of your work and civic activities?
A: I enjoy any activity that gets me outside. I love hiking, cycling, kayaking, and snowboarding
especially. I also enjoy playing pick-up games of basketball or doing adult recreation leagues.
I also love all the community events that Madison has to offer, like the farmers market, art
festivals, music festivals and live shows, performances, food festivals, night markets, and
much more.

Nia Trammell is a professional working in the legal field.