Back to her Roots: Scarton Works with Native American Communities to Help Prevent Diabetes

Post-Doctoral fellow, Lisa Scarton, Ph.D., R.N., is making waves at the College of Nursing, researching the effects of diabetes in Native American populations and the impact it has on families.

lisa scarton
Lisa Scarton, Ph.D., R.N.

When she interviewed for the position, she was interested in developing interventions for people with diabetes, and their families that may be caring for them, said Diana Wilkie, Ph.D, RN, FAAN, the Prairieview Trust-Earl and Margo Powers Endowed Professor and one of Dr. Scarton’s mentors. Since coming to the College of Nursing in July, Scarton has been busy connecting with the local Native American populations, creating focus groups, and assisting with other studies in the college.

“She’s been going gung-ho and accomplishing a great deal,” Wilkie said. “She has a lot of energy and is able to connect with lots of different people, and she follows through.”

Growing up in the Choctaw Nation, caring for the sick and elderly was a strong value in her community. When she was young, Scarton helped her grandmother care for them. This instilled in her a passion for caregiving and helping others.

Later on, after getting her undergraduate degree in nursing from Indiana University-Bloomington, she became the primary caregiver for her grandmother. She quickly realized that caring for family members is more difficult than caring for patients in a medical setting.

“It’s different when they’re living at home with you,” she said. “As a caregiver for my grandmother I learned of the day-to-day struggles of caregiving such as handling last minute cancelations by health care providers, unexpected doctors’ appointments, and lack of sleep from being on call 24/7.”

She quickly learned that there are few resources for caregivers, she said.

Realizing more research was needed in the area of caregiving, she decided to return to college to complete her Ph.D. In addition to studying caregiving, she was also drawn to diabetes, due to seeing family members affected by type 2 diabetes.

“In Native American populations, you have parents and grandparents with type 2 diabetes, and children who also have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes,” she said. “I want to work with Native American families to help decrease diabetes-related health disparities through the development of a culturally relevant multigenerational intervention.”

Scarton can appreciate that there were many opportunities to collaborate with experts in her field to develop her own research, including her collaboration with the UF Diabetes Institute. She is working on creating an interdisciplinary team of tribal representatives from the surrounding areas, as well as scholars and scientists to explore ways to reduce diabetes health disparities prevalent in Native American communities in Florida and surrounding regions.

In addition, she is also creating a focus group with the American Diabetes Association, which will be comprised of Native American tribal members living with Type 2 Diabetes. They will work to further understand current practices, needs and challenges in the community and develop interventions that are culturally relevant.

With a little more than a year left in her fellowship, Scarton has achieved more than was originally expected, Wilkie said. With a personal commitment to her research, she is a strong representative of her nursing background, her Choctaw heritage, and of her fields of study.

“She’s clearly working with the communities, building on their strengths to make a difference in the lives of families who are affected by diabetes,” Wilkie said. “The respect, care, and the love that she has for the communities are quite evident.”

(Originally published by the University of Florida College of Nursing here. Article by Jasmine Osmond, UF Health Communications Intern.)