New York 1 clip regarding the 'Denny Moe's Cut for a Cure' event, in which the Mister B team participated.


Dr. Joseph Ravenell presents Mister - B project at 12 Gurus: Health Conference:


Dr. Ravenell's Interview on Open with Bob Lee:


Principal Investigator's birthday provokes look back

By Gia Cobb

One of Dr. Joseph Ravenell’s most sobering moments occurred in Dallas, Texas. While conducting research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical, he stumbled upon a shopping mall with five hemodialysis centers for people with kidney disease, which is most commonly caused by hypertension and diabetes.  “Out of curiosity I peeked in and you know, everyone sitting there looked like me.  The rates of end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis are off the charts for Black men compared to everyone else.”

Principal investigator the of Men’s Health Initiative, Dr. Ravenell shared a contrasting memory of being among people who looked just like him.  It occurred in a different venue, in Trenton, NJ.  “My earliest barbershop memories are very special because they’re with my dad.  I was always just amazed how my dad would walk in and everyone would say ‘Hey, Rev’ (my dad is a minister) and it was essentially the same group of men every time we went in, every other Saturday at about 9am.”

While waiting in line two hours for Mr. Lester, who “seemed 200 years old,” to give him a quick Caesar cut – “zip zip zip” – the eight-year-old Dr. Ravenell “heard some ear-popping stories. There were conversations about everything under the sun and I think that left a lasting impression that any range of topics that we want to cover in the barbershop is fair game - so why not healthcare?  That’s a lot of time spent (waiting) that can be used well for health promotion.”

To that end, Dr. Ravenell leads a team of 16 people trained in motivational interviewing and patient navigation to counsel hundreds of Black men in barbershops and churches about high blood pressure and colorectal cancer, two conditions with higher incidence and mortality rates among Blacks than any other group.

Dr. Ravenell selects research partnerships with barbershops and churches as carefully as they choose him. “The barbershop has to be respected in the community as more than just a barbershop.  The ones where we’ve had the most success really do serve as community centers where people feel comfortable coming to congregate and that participate in things other than hairstyling, like voter registration drives.”

He understands barbers’ and church leaders’ skepticism about participating in medical research “because the relationship between academic medical centers and the community traditionally has not been one that has the benefit of the community as the ultimate goal.”

Dr. Ravenell clarified that the goal of his work at NYU School of Medicine is to screen people who are at high risk of hypertension and colorectal cancer and “close the loop” by helping them get treatment.  He said, “The work that we’ve done has really confirmed that Black men are under-represented in primary health care settings.  Half of participants reported not having a primary care doctor.”  

In order to get his message across, “I always try to sit in the owner’s chair,” he said.  Having the ear of the barbershop owner is not only good for the project, it’s good for Dr. Ravenell’s look.

“Typically the barbershop owner is the best barber in the place” and has the ability to “cut the hair line just so that it disguises the recession and makes you look like you have a fuller head of hair. Those are things that you look for as a 38-year-old that you didn’t think about when you were 21,” Dr. Ravenell said.

His recent birthday, which falls during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, has him thinking about the importance of his work tackling health disparities in colorectal cancer and hypertension. He said, “It seems criminal that Black men are dying disproportionately from (colon cancer).” 

Dr. Ravenell adds that the project is “making such an impact that people are taking note year round,” not just this month or in February for Black History Month or Heart Health Month. “When you go out there and screen 10,000 people (for high blood pressure) in little over a year, that’s more than just a token effort.”

He acknowledged the recognition has been hard-won.  “There’s a reason that there are very few people doing this kind of work.  And it’s because it’s extremely difficult.” 

Although Dr. Ravenell appreciates the professional validation that comes from winning highly-coveted NIH and CDC grants to complete his research, he attributes the project’s success to his mentors and research staff.  He said, “If you’re going to be successful with community-based research with a ‘hard-to-reach’ population, it takes having an absolutely stellar team around you. Thinking about where the project would be without those dedicated, compassionate, hardworking and smart people to do the work, I just shutter at the thought of it.”

Even with a strong team, the task of rectifying health disparities can feel overwhelming, he said, “like what we’re doing is just a drop in the bucket.” But then he wonders, “How many people are fortunate enough to get paid for doing what they love and what they think is important?”  That helps him “realize the only way to fill up the bucket is one drop at a time.”

Dr. Ravenell described his motivation. “Every single one of those people sitting in those dialysis centers didn’t have to be there. It’s things like that that wake me up in the morning, knowing the death and disability that we can prevent by making people aware of their hypertension and helping them do something about it.  It’s knowing that what I’m doing can prevent my father or my brother from being one of those people in the hemodialysis center.”


Doctor follows own Rx for heart health

By Gia Cobb

Even though Dr. Ravenell’s not hypertensive, according to a recent 24-hour monitoring, he said he always keeps an eye on his blood pressure “because of my heritage—African-Americans being at high risk—but I also have a very strong family history, which is true for many of us.”

Dr. Ravenell knows how hard it is to practice the healthy lifestyle recommendations he prescribes to his patients at the Bellevue clinic. He admits that adhering to his own medications is hard, saying, “Most of us need another thing to remember like we need a hole in the head.”

Avoiding stress triggers is easier, he said, and adds some exercise to his daily routine.  “I’m forced to walk a lot every day to and from the train station because nothing raises my blood pressure more than having to pay for a New York City cab.”

One who craves culinary adventures, Dr. Ravenell also understands the power of the environment on individual health choices.  McDonald’s, he said, “somehow manages to make the milkshakes aromatic - you can smell it a mile away.”

To explain how taxing this can be on one’s willpower, he describes a scene from Godfather Part III, in which Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  Dr. Ravenell added, “That sums up America and the difficulty with trying to enact lifestyle change. We have so much access to so much excess.”

However, the take-home message Dr. Ravenell wants his hypertensive patients to remember is that “having hypertension by itself is not a death sentence. Having hypertension and not doing anything about it, that’s where the problem lies.  They have a serious condition but they can do something about it and I’m with them every step of the way.”