Faculty Focus: Dr. Luis Zayas

February 02, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

Dr. Luis Zayas

Title: Associate Professor, College of Doctoral Studies

Years at GCU: 4

Academic degrees: 

  • Ph.D.: University of Chicago – Socio-Cultural Anthropology
  • M.A.: University of Chicago – Socio-Cultural Anthropology
  • B.A.:  University at Buffalo, State University of New York – Anthropology

What is your most notable accomplishment in your field, and why was it important?

Serving as editor of the fall 2017 issue of the journal Family & Community Health with a focus on health disparities and health equity is my most notable and proud accomplishment in my field (medical anthropology). It is an important accomplishment for me because of what it represents in my scholarly career.

I began my research career as Research Instructor in the Department of Family Medicine of the University at Buffalo 25 years ago as part of a small, interdisciplinary, primary care research team while writing my dissertation. With the encouragement and mentorship of senior colleagues, I volunteered and served as ad hoc reviewer for scholarly journals to gain experience in the field of primary care research although I doubted myself.

A few years later, having co-authored a few publications, I submitted my first manuscript for publication in a refereed journal (Journal of Asthma) as lead author, and all my colleagues were surprised to learn it was accepted “as is.” As they congratulated me, saying it is very unusual to have a paper accepted without revisions, I thought to myself that it was not too difficult. Yet none of my other 26 publications were accepted “as is.”

Still, I continued serving as ad hoc reviewer for several journals, professional conferences and grant foundations and as member of the editorial board of two journals — Qualitative Health Research and Family & Community Health — before having the privilege of editing the latter.

As I reflect on that trajectory – from ad-hoc journal reviewer without experience to publishing and service to the profession in well-respected health care journals to influence health care practice and policy – I’m very proud of it.

What are you most passionate about in your field and why?

I am most passionate about helping to improve the health care of populations experiencing disparities in health and health care, through qualitative research that focuses on people’s lived experiences coping with chronic illnesses.

For example, in conducting focus group research in black and Latino urban communities with high prevalence of asthma regarding how they learn about and could be better informed about the illness, I found that the group interview dynamic was their recommended educational medium complementary to office-based asthma education.

Hence, we developed a series of asthma workshops tailored to the community that (1) consider participants as “teachers and learners,” (2) offer social support, (3) promote issue advocacy and are (4) culturally appropriate and (5) community-based. Such group health education couched on people’s experiences and societal conditions offered unique opportunities for patient asthma care empowerment in urban minority communities.

Interestingly, when I presented study findings in our faculty-development forum, several of our research physicians were excited about the model and volunteered to lead such workshops, but others warned that if physicians led the workshops they could take over the discussion and not recognize learners as teachers. Hence, we revised the program to include a “guest” health care provider sitting among participants mainly to listen and learn about the participants’ experiences and clarify any misconceptions about the disease. That made me tick! Thus, I find myself often saying, “Learners as teachers and teachers as learners.”

Zayas, L.E. & McLean, D. (2007) — Asthma patient education opportunities in predominantly minority urban communities. Health Education Research, 22(6): 757-769.

What is a memorable moment you had in class, and what does that reveal about your teaching style?

The most memorable moment I have had in class that reflects my critical thinking, research-oriented style of teaching happened right after class.

In a cultural diversity class, a student asked me if he could write a research paper on access barriers to care for people of Mexican descent in Arizona considering the anti-immigrant sentiment and policies at the time. I thought that was an excellent topic to research that I would be interested in reading, given my own research focus.

A few weeks later, I was in my office reading his (long) paper on the proposed topic when, among many other well-known health care barriers, I stumbled into his discussion of an obscure practice I had not heard about – extra-legal hospital deportations or the practice of returning uninsured, seriously injured or ill undocumented patients to their countries of origin.

Intrigued, I later asked the learner – a very good writer – if he would be interested in researching the issue further and to submit a commentary for journal publication with my mentorship, to which he excitedly agreed. Long story short, his commentary was accepted “as is” in the journal Social Work, and it was the basis for a Fulbright grant application for research in Mexico to examine the same phenomenon further, which he won!

It does not end there. While in Mexico he met his future spouse and got accepted to a prestigious university back in the U.S. to complete his doctoral degree. To this day, I think about the impact of that moment for the student, which started in the classroom with one regular research assignment.

Sullivan, J.E. & Zayas, L.E. (2013). Passport biopsies: Hospital deportations and implications for social work. Social Work, 58(3): 281-284.

What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

There are two activities that I love to do for fun – salsa dancing and beach volleyball. During my residence in Phoenix, I could only go salsa dancing but no beach volleyball! Having recently moved to South Florida to be near family and the beach, there are plenty of opportunities for both! I thank GCU for the flexibility of allowing me to continue working with our students remotely from my new residence in Florida.

What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?

Let me see. I guess something interesting about me that most people don’t know is that I am tri-lingual − fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese. I left my home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the first time to go to college in Buffalo, New York, without ever having seen snow and knowing only basic English. Having to demonstrate fluency in three languages to complete a doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, I decided to take Portuguese and conduct dissertation fieldwork in Brazil. Hence, I now love soccer (Brazil’s team) and can do a little samba.




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