Guilamo–Ramos: A Man of Many Letters
by Toby Robinson
Dr. Vincent Guilamo–Ramos is a man of many parts: an educator, researcher, clinician, and builder of programs that matter. The Minority Fellowship Program helped him progress in his education and launch his career in behavioral health. It’s a career that is rapidly becoming stellar.
As is evident from the many initials that follow his name (Ph.D., M.S., MPH, LCW, RN), Dr. Guilamo–Ramos is well educated, and he has put his credentials to work. His extensive training and dedication to promoting adolescent health have led to a whirlwind of accomplishments this article only briefly touches upon.
Dr. Guilamo–Ramos is a professor of social work and global public health at New York University’s (NYU’s) Silver School of Social Work, and director of the school’s Ph.D. program. On Feb. 4, 2016, he was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a prestigious 6-month appointment.1
Guilamo–Ramos is also a licensed clinical social worker, a registered nurse who is board certified in HIV/AIDS nursing, and a former MFP Fellow. He directs the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, a project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to address emergent issues in HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases prevalent among drug users and at-risk populations.
Most of Dr. Guilamo–Ramos’s research is conducted in urban areas where resources are meager: the South Bronx, Harlem, and Lower East Side of New York City. Finding the wherewithal for research and other initiatives to address these communities’ needs is often a difficult task. But where such resources are limited, Guilamo–Ramos has found other means.
For example, he was principal investigator of 18 research projects. He founded and co-directs the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. And he chairs the Latino Initiative Advisory Group of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Keenly focused on the role of families in promoting adolescent health, Guilamo–Ramos concentrates on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancies. His research interests parallel his everyday work and include parent–adolescent communication, intervention research, HIV prevention, and alcohol and drug misuse.
The Center for Drug Use and HIV Research provides infrastructure to support young investigators who use a multidisciplinary approach in the joint research project. Guilamo–Ramos directs this project, which promotes pilot testing innovative research on HIV/AIDS and substance misuse, while increasing involvement and mentoring of underrepresented, early career investigators. The center is housed in NYU’s College of Nursing.
Dr. Guilamo–Ramos has expanded the scope of his HIV prevention activities to examine susceptible populations in Latin America and Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean—primarily the Dominican Republic.
His intense concern for the well-being of young Latinas and Latinos in the United States is not misplaced, as this population has some of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies, STIs, and HIV.* They are also affected by myriad social problems, such as poverty, depression, poor school retention, and limited access to health care. Young Latinas and Latinos are especially underrepresented in evidence-based intervention programs.
Builder of Programs That Matter
Having determined the inadequacy of available resources, Guilamo–Ramos founded the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at the Silver School and became its co-director. Its mission is to address the needs of Latino adolescents and their families—specifically, to prevent problem behaviors among Latino youth and promote good health and economic well-being for Latino families.
The center fulfills its mission by “conducting research projects and community-based activities within Latino communities, focused on topics such as teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol use among youth, adolescent sexual-risk behavior, and HIV family-based prevention in the Dominican Republic. Alongside scientific advisors and agency collaborations, CLAFH uses its findings to develop, test, and disseminate models, curricula, and materials to inform organizations and professionals working with Latino populations.”2
“Strategically based in New York City, CLAFH addresses the needs of New York’s diverse Latino communities in both national and global contexts. The center serves as a link between the scientific community, Latino health and social service providers, and broader Latino community.”3
Among the outstanding achievements of Guilamo–Ramos and his colleagues is the development and evaluation of “Families Talking Together” (FTT), an evidence-based adolescent sexual risk–reduction intervention. The program is designed to increase the influence of Latino and African American parents on the sexual decision making of their 10- to 14-year-old children and delay too-early sexual debut or, if the adolescents are already sexually active, reduce the frequency of sexual intercourse.
A key component of the program is a family workbook designed to teach parents effective communication skills, build or enhance parent–adolescent relationships, help parents develop successful monitoring and supervisory strategies, and teach adolescents assertiveness and refusal skills. The workbook also offers parents specific strategies for communicating with their teens about sexual activity.
Another important component is a protocol for face-to-face parent sessions with a well-trained interventionist—for example, a community health worker or health professional. These sessions concentrate primarily on teaching parents how to use the workbook and how to structure conversations with their adolescent children.
A third element is homework designed to help parents and teens improve their communication. Supplementary videos—Preventing Too-Early Pregnancies, How to Talk With Your Teen, Monitoring and Supervision, and Parent Voices—are also useful for improving communication between parents and teens.
FTT can be delivered to parents individually or in small group sessions, in schools, clinics, and households. The program has been expanded to rural areas in California, the Dominican Republic, and Texas, and it has been identified as effective in reducing teen sexual risk behavior by the Department of Health and Human Services.
In September 2015, Dr. Guilamo–Ramos and Dr. James Jaccard, his co-director and frequent4 collaborator at CLAFH, obtained a 5-year Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Office of Adolescent Health grant to test the hypothesis that paternal influence can help reduce teen pregnancies, HIV, STIs, and other sexual health risks.
“Fathers Raising Responsible Men” (FRRM) is a new intervention that brings together Latino and African American adolescent boys ages 15–19 and their fathers. The program is designed to impart sex-related communication skills to fathers and sons, as well as to adolescent boys and their sexual partners.
FRRM also supports adolescent males’ correct and consistent use of condoms, and encourages visits to a sexual and reproductive health clinic where sons can receive STI screening and treatment (if needed), as well as the HPV vaccine.
As with FTT, FRRM provides modules with homework assignments for father–son dyads and face-to-face sessions with interventionists and fathers. Participating fathers receive follow-up booster contacts to ensure use of the suggested activities, to sustain motivation, and to address any problems that may have surfaced.
Wearing many hats as a researcher, educator, and advocate, Dr. Vincent Guilamo–Ramos is a friend and ally to so many underrepresented individuals and families. His tireless work to improve the lives of minority youth, adolescents, and families is nothing short of inspiring—a true success story for the MFP.
*Recent reports show similarly high rates of unplanned pregnancies, STIs, and HIV among Latino and African American teens. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, in 2014, Hispanic females ages 15–19 had the highest birth rate (38 births per 1,000 females), followed by black adolescent females (34.9 births per 1,000 females) and white adolescent females (17.3 births per 1,000 females). See also Latino Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Behaviors and Outcomes and U.S. Teen Birth Rates Reach Lowest Level Since the 1940s.