Aug. 27, 2018 — For UF Health pediatric endocrinologist Angelina Bernier, M.D. ’02, nothing matters more than ensuring her patients with low literacy or limited English proficiency receive the same standard of health care as their English-speaking counterparts.
Closing the gap between providers and the Spanish-speaking patient population is a daily goal of Bernier’s. She often translates patient handouts and clinic fliers at the UF Health Children’s Medical Services Building, where her office is located.
“Anything I develop or create, I do so in both English and Spanish if I can. I feel that Hispanic populations can receive less than optimal care because of the lack of adequate communication on our part,” she says. “Socioeconomic status can be enough of a barrier, so let’s eliminate language as a secondary barrier to care. I can’t fix financial status, but I can help people communicate better.”
Bernier maintained this ethos when she began work on “Kara and the (Not So) Dire Beastie,” a video series and book that educates recently diagnosed children and young adults about self-care and management of Type 1 diabetes. The idea for creating these educational materials came to Bernier while she was practicing in Boston, where she spent seven years at both the Joslin Diabetes Center and the Boston Medical Center.
“I saw the greatest need in patients with low literacy or limited English proficiency,” she says. “Most of the educational resources we provide for patients are not as helpful to these patients.”
Bernier partnered with the nonprofit Drawn From Valor, which uses animation to educate children and families about chronic illnesses. With help from grants and philanthropic gifts, Bernier’s idea launched an animated video series and an illustrated book.
“The educational materials I developed are mostly image-based so that literacy wouldn’t play a role,” she says. “I think this will help all diabetes patients, but I’m specifically targeting patients who would otherwise miss out due to language barriers.”
Bernier says the materials chart the journey of Kara, a young girl diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes who falls asleep and finds herself in a magical land, which viewers later recognize as the human body. Kara befriends a beastie, who represents a human cell that teaches her the balancing act required when it comes to glucose and insulin levels.
“People remember things better if the concept is tied to a storyline. I wanted to create a narrative animation that would tie together the key topics in diabetes education,” Bernier says. “This format supports the learning experience.”
Bernier, who grew up in Gainesville, not only graduated from the UF College of Medicine but also completed a pediatric residency and an endocrinology fellowship at UF, says she hopes her patients leave her office feeling challenged and inspired, never sad or defeated by their diagnosis.
“You can face stress by feeling helpless and sad, which propagates more stress and has effects on the mind and body, or you can view it as a challenge,” she says. “With any patient experience, I aim to identify the stress, diagnosis or challenge to their care and help them see it as an opportunity to rise up, overcome and become stronger in the end.”
Bernier’s passion for medicine began when she was 13 years old and assisted in the delivery of her youngest brother.
“My mother’s OB-GYN, Dr. Michael Lukowski, M.D. ’77, allowed me to help and patiently explained the delivery process,” she recalls. “At the end, he handed me the scissors, and I got to cut the umbilical cord. That was when I knew medicine, not ballet, would be my future.”
Years later, as a student at the UF College of Medicine, Bernier gained insight from the instruction of Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., and Lynn Romrell, Ph.D.
“They didn’t just teach us. They inspired us. It’s an overwhelming task to learn everything about our exquisite bodies, but they taught us patiently step by step,” she says.
Today, Bernier is married with three children, ages 9, 7 and 3. She brings her children annually to the same Gainesville diabetes camp that inspired her to pursue a career in pediatric endocrinology nearly two decades ago.
“I want them to learn about the experiences other children go through. I want them to have a sense of empathy and compassion for others, and I want them to learn how to care for others,” she says.
Just as she aims to inspire her children, she credits them for imbuing her medical practice with a sense of empathy and acute awareness.
“My children have given me an added degree of compassion and sensitivity that I bring to my patients,” she says. “I think about what’s necessary to ensure that their care is as pain-free as possible. I can see my children in my patients, and it makes me think twice about the care I’m providing.”