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Prebys Research Hero: Awardee

Razel Bacuetes Milo

Associate Professor, Nursing and Health Science

University of San Diego

Dr. Milo is a practicing family nurse practitioner and behavioral science researcher, studying the relationship between perceived well-being and stress among the Filipino community as a way of gaining insight into how to improve health outcomes.

"I want to help [students] learn how to develop their own research and have their own understanding of how they could go out into the community. This work is so exciting because there’s always something to learn as a practitioner that you just can’t get in a clinical setting.” 

- Dr. Razel Milo

Championing Mental Health: Dr. Razel Milo's Groundbreaking Research with Filipino Americans

When you think of a scientific researcher, you might conjure images of a scientist surrounded by test tubes and operating a multimillion-dollar piece of equipment. Dr. Razel Milo breaks that mold. She is a family nurse practitioner and a nurse scientist, and her research tools are a pen and a sheet of paper.  

She was recently awarded a $500,000 Prebys Research Heroes grant, part of a $10 million two-year initiative that celebrates the contributions female scientists make in the field of biomedical and medical research, and which honors outstanding San Diego scientists as a key lever to create a more innovative, equitable, and collaborative medical research system. 

 

Dr. Milo is Associate Professor of Nursing and Health Science at the University of California, San Diego, and a behavioral science researcher. Her work focuses on analyzing the relationship between mental health and life satisfaction among Filipino Americans as she strives to improve health outcomes for this community. She combines her clinical expertise with research to address the behavioral factors affecting chronic conditions and mental health. Her research can be crucial in developing new ways to understand and communicate with members of the community. 

 

Dr. Milo draws on two existing social science research tools – the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the Perceived Stress Scale, and her work seeks to explore the relationships between these two measurements to find ways to better serve Filipino patients. These tools have been used in a variety of languages, including Arabic and Vietnamese, but not in Tagalog, which is the language most commonly spoken by Filipino immigrants to the United States.  

 

The study is the first to establish the psychometric properties of the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the Perceived Stress Scale in Tagalog. These properties include the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits. Dr. Milo hopes that this research will lead to reliable research tools to collect, measure, and analyze data that produce valid data for mental health assessments among Filipinos. These tools will be available to healthcare providers, community-based organizations, and researchers to suit patient needs. 

 

Dr. Milo, who was born in the Philippines and came to the United States as a teenager, says that it’s difficult to know if an existing test can be relied on scientifically among respondents whose first language isn’t English. With a background in behavioral science research, she sought to change the way those tests were implemented, noting that there was always something missing in the way this community has received information and provided feedback. “If the tests are in English, do we really know if they’re answering their surveys correctly?” she asks.  

 

Dr. Milo’s membership in the community provides her with a special understanding of the challenge of getting input from people about mental illness. She notes a high suicide rate among Filipino immigrants and reflects, “There is a stigma in talking about mental health, but we need to be able to better assess what our patients’ needs are,” she says.

  

To begin to accomplish this, Dr. Milo is working with two co-investigators to design a survey vehicle in Tagalog. This two-step process, which begins with focus groups and then moves on to conducting the survey with a larger sample, will allow the team to do the statistical analysis necessary to validate the survey and begin to use it even more widely if they are able to find significant correlations between stress levels and life satisfaction.

  

When she is not designing new ways to help evaluate people’s well-being, Dr. Milo is in the community, helping people directly. She volunteers at her church to provide services like conducting health assessments and doing blood pressure checks, and she has recently launched a mental health workshop for health providers in collaboration with the Filipino Nurses Association. 

As a professor, she guides students in developing their research skills, particularly in community outreach. “I want to help them learn how to develop their own research and have their own understanding of how they could go out into the community,” she says. “This work is so exciting because there’s always something to learn as a practitioner that you just can’t get in a clinical setting.” 

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