Michael Spencer, Ph.D., M.S.S.W.

Spencer, Michael
Social Work


Dr. Spencer’s career has been dedicated to research on physical and mental health disparities in populations of color, particularly in the area of health services. He is the Principal Investigator of the REACH Detroit Family Intervention, an NIH-funded, community-based, participatory research (CBPR) project which aims to reduce disparities in type 2 diabetes through the use of community health workers among Latino residents in Southwest Detroit. He also investigates the association between discrimination and physical and mental health as well as service use among Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans.

  • Ph.D., Social Welfare, University of Washington
  • M.S.S.W., Social Work, University of Texas
  • B.A., Psychology, University of Hawaii

U-M Academic Affiliation(s)

Featured Member Profile


What are you thinking about?

I have been thinking about access to services and care for low income populations of color. For the past 15 years, I have been conducting community-based, participatory research (CBPR) with community health workers (CHWs) to improve access and care for African-American and Latino patients with diabetes in Detroit. I will also be pursuing new CBPR projects with Native Hawaiians in Hawaii on issues of access to care through the use of CHWs. 


Why is this interesting to you?

I am interested in the well-being of low income populations of color and the disparities that exist as a result of structural, institutional, and interpersonal barriers to care. As a social worker, I am concerned about healthcare as a social justice issue. As an individual of Native Hawaiian ancestry, I am concerned about members of my community and other communities of color who have experienced historical and contemporary discrimination and inequities. 


What are the practical implications for healthcare?

Using a CBPR approach in developing and assessing interventions for improving access to healthcare can lead to improved health outcomes. For example, in our REACH Detroit CHW trial, we demonstrated both clinical and statistical significance in improved control of blood sugar levels in people living with diabetes. Using a culturally tailored healthy lifestyle curriculum delivered by CHWs, as well as conducting home visits and accompanying patients to clinic visits, we have been successful in increasing knowledge of diabetes and its self-management, in addition to improved health outcomes. CHWs also provide the necessary support for setting and achieving goals for self-management and also make referrals for other services. Thus, CHW involvement in healthcare teams can be a cost-effective way of increasing access to services and improving quality of care.


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