Last month, Lixin Song, RN, PhD, FAAN and Meg Zomorodi PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN were among 90 leaders from UNC-Chapel Hill on the Tar Heel Bus Tour, covering more than one thousand miles of the state to connect with and learn from the communities the University serves.
Both returned to Chapel Hill excited to strengthen their bonds with partners across the state, making sure that what they do for Carolina continues to matter to North Carolina’s people.
Song, associate professor and Beerstecher-Blackwell Distinguished Term Scholar, joined the tour that covered the western part of the state and Zomorodi, professor and Assistant Provost for Interprofessional Education and Practice, traveled east to learn about the state’s economic and geographic regions, the challenges and opportunities faced by every-day North Carolinians and the doors that could be opened to collaboration and service beyond Carolina’s stone walls.
As director of the Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative for UNC’s health affairs schools, Zomorodi was eager to see the rural communities of eastern North Carolina and learn the health and economic landscapes of places like Kinston, which have been damaged by a string of hurricanes over the past few years.
“It was inspiring to see how that community has come together to build capital with few resources,” says Zomorodi. “It was humbling to see the disparities that were there, and it made me think about how to best align the work we’re doing in partnership with them and engage with them in ways that impact health as well as economic diversity.”
Song moved to North Carolina in 2009, and in that decade has traveled the mountains and the coast as a tourist. But most of her travel for research has remained in the Triangle area. She was interested in going on the tour because of her ongoing research with cancer survivors and families throughout the state through the N.C. Central Cancer Registry, the sole repository of complete cancer incidence data for the state.
“In my current research that is ongoing with cancer survivors and families through the state of North Carolina, I often hear stories, but I don’t see them,” she says. “I can understand their experiences, but it’s hard to comprehend what is really going on without first-hand knowledge. I was moved by what I saw with the continued inequities in income and housing, even in our bigger cities like Charlotte.”
While Zomorodi experienced the aftermath of hurricanes in the east, Song saw the devastation left by the decline of the textile and furniture industries and the rise of unemployment and substance use in local communities.
“I visited towns where thousands of people had been laid off and communities where people don’t have the Internet, so the ways we try to deliver care to them from here aren’t working for everyone,” says Song. “We need to rethink some of our programs so that they are cost-effective but also possible to access in places with limited resources and a lack of health literacy.”
Song says the health care and economic challenges currently faced across the state are “the kinds of problems nurses face all the time. How do you balance efficiency versus human touch and still make a difference not only in cancer care, but also in other parts of care-delivery?”
Zomorodi intentionally sat with different faculty members on each part of the trip, learning their jobs, concerns for the state and the kinds of work they do.
“I left wondering how we, as individuals at this University, can come together as one big team and make an impact on our state,” she says.
Both Zomorodi and Song said they were thankful to Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz for giving them the opportunity to learn about the state and consider the opportunities they may have to make a difference moving forward.
Learn more about the Tar Heel Bus Tour.