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Fit and trim

The local barbershop is often a neighborhood gathering place, where seeing friends and catching up on gossip is just as important as getting a trim.

But in one Columbus barbershop and beauty salon, among the humming of hair clippers and the steady stream of chatter, you’ll also hear the Velcro rip of blood pressure cuffs and the beeping of glucose meters.

Twice a month, students from Ohio State’s College of Nursing set up shop in A Cut Above the Rest, a barbershop and beauty salon located in a predominantly African American neighborhood on Columbus’ near-east side. The students screen patrons for their blood sugar, blood pressure, body mass index and stress levels.

“I think it’s been a real blessing,” said owner Al Edmondson. “The customers look for it. They say, ‘Hey, if I didn’t make it to the doctor, I know I can go to the barbershop to get a screening or get my glucose checked.’ It’s definitely a benefit.”

Barbershop health carousel
Ohio State College of Nursing students work with local residents at A Cut Above the Rest barbershop on the near-east side of Columbus.
Barbershop health carousel
College of Nursing student Alexandra James works with a patient at the clinic.
Barbershop health carousel
College of Nursing student Morgan Napier checks the blood pressure of resident Brenda Curtis.

Reaching those most in need

The program launched in 2013 as a way for Ohio State to extend its outreach to local communities, with a focus on helping underserved populations.

A report from Columbus Public Health revealed huge health disparities between white and African American populations in Franklin County. For example, African Americans are 2.6 times more likely to die of diabetes than whites and 2.7 times more likely to die of hypertension.

“It’s good for our kids and our community when they come to see the nurses to see, ‘Hey, it’s not that bad to get a checkup,’” Edmondson said.

The program is also a win for Ohio State. Not only do students get hands-on experience in real-world situations, but it also has served as a research opportunity. Students and faculty interviewed patrons and learned that residents are just as concerned about their mental health as their physical health.

“It’s been a real blessing.”

Al Edmondson, owner of A Cut Above the Rest

Ohio State Professor Barbara Warren said the insights from going into the communities — something known as participatory action research — are invaluable.   

“We, as health care providers, always know what we think is important, but what’s critical is to make sure the community’s needs are being met. So that’s what this participatory research approach does,” Warren said. “When you’re in the community, people feel more comfortable asking you questions about their health care.”

As a result of their interviews with patrons, faculty are now working on securing grant money to further study mental health in underserved communities.