Featured Scholar: Yekaterina Kokidko

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Featured Scholar: Yekaterina Kokidko
Series Title:
Journal of Undergraduate Research
Smelt, Walter
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
Publication Date:


serial ( sobekcm )

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
UF00091523_00602 ( sobekcm )


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University of Florida | Journal of U ndergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 1 Yekaterina Kokidko Featured Scholar Journal of Undergraduate Research Yekaterina Kokidko knows that health care does not just mean treating disease, but preventing it in the first place, and it means treating the whole person, not just a physical co ndition. Kokidko, who graduated from UF in May 2013 and plans to be a doctor, studied Biology and Psychology, a combination that allowed her to see that physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can be affected by behavioral and psycholog ical factors like overeating, self control, and fear. This perspective informs both the research she does and the kind of doctor she wants to become, and she hopes, ultimately, to help patients by empowering them with the information needed to make healthy decisions about diet, lifestyle, and treatment. Kokidkos paper examines factors that affect healthy eating among African American adults who are raising children, using a survey to find the most important motivators (e.g., availability of healthy foods) and barriers (e.g., lack of self control) and their relationship to demographic factors like age and education. According to Kokidko, the population she surveyed is still under researched, even though it is especially vulnerable: Health disparities contin ue to exist in racial/ethnic minorities, and they are disproportionately present in African American populations. Within those populations, caregivers are important to study because their eating behaviors have a huge impact on their children, and the habi ts and health problems formed in childhood have lifelong effects. As she points out, Eating unhealthy foods is perhaps one of the greatest contributors to obesity and obesity related diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. After vol unteering with people from underserved and overlooked communities, she says, I wanted to develop my own study that could potentially help health professionals better establish interventions that focus on increasing motivators [of] healthpromoting behaviors and decreasing barriers. One experience that drove home the importance of such interventions came while Kokidko was helping to train unemployed people in Gainesville as Health Empowerment Coaches who would go on to educate others in their community on ways to prevent obesity and the diseases related to it. I particularly remember two of the coaches whose motivation and dedication to overcoming their own barriers to health promoting behaviors [] allowed them to transform their lives and establish healt hier lifestyles for themselves and their families, she says. After meeting a child and infant belonging to the two coaches, she added, I could not have been happier than to know that these two children would continue to live healthy lifestyles because th eir primary caregivers were committed to using effective tools and strategies. Kokidkos interest in health care, particularly for children, started long before that experience, however, when her infant brother first came home from the hospital. Looking a t the newest member of her family, she felt both protective of him, and curious about how his little body worked. Ultimately, she says, my brother became my first inspiration to practice medicine. (Given this beginning, it will come as no surprise that Kokidko plans to specialize in Pediatrics.) Another formative moment was when her grandfather finally told her he had lung cancer, after dealing with it by himself for over a year. His fear of worrying others (a psychological factor) had made it hard for him to ask for help, but now she joined her grandfather in his battle. She accompanied him to doctors appointments and chemotherapy sessions, learning about


JOURNAL OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH FEATURED SCHOLAR University of Florida | Journal of U ndergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 2 his condition and helping to explain the tests and treatments to him. This cemented her conviction that one of the best ways to help patients is to empower them through education, giving them what they need to make the best decisions for themselves. At UF, Kokidko found the resources and opportunities needed to continue along her path toward the medica l field. It was here she found mentors like Dr. Carolyn Tucker and graduate student Tasia Smith, who are co authors of her paper. Dr. Tucker taught Kokidko the importance of time management by setting deadlines for the first drafts of each section of the p aper and then helping to revise them, guiding her through the writing process. Previous papers by Dr. Tucker had developed the categories of healthy eating motivators and barriers that Kokidko used in conducting her own research. Furthermore, Dr. Tucker di rects the Health Psychology Research Lab where Kokidko worked as a research assistant, which is what led to her training unemployed workers as Health Empowerment Coaches. As Kokidko says, I would not have been able to complete the entire research project without the hard work and support of my mentors. Another opportunity that UF gave Kokidko to work with disadvantaged people, this time at a free, student run clinic, provided further motivation to write her paper. Volunteering in the Equal Access Clinic was definitely one of the most life changing, memorable, and enjoyable volunteer experiences, she says. I had the opportunity of working with adults and children affected by health disparities. Conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease were some of the problems that these patients developed, partially due to unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, and stress. Experiences at the Equal Access Clinic, the Health Psychology Research Lab, and volunteering at Shands Childrens Hospital all showed her how imperative it was to find and measure the factors that helped or hindered people in leading healthy lives and made her more determined than ever to become a doctor. Since graduating from UF last May, Kokidko has gone on to Barry Universi ty in Miami to study for a masters in Biomedical Sciences, the last step before medical school. At the same time, she is gaining practical experience in the health care field by working as a part time Pharmacy Technician, and continuing her commitment to service by volunteering at Joe DiMaggio Childrens Hospital in the pediatric dialysis unit. She says, I hope to specialize in Pediatrics and continue doing research in the field of health psychology and health disparities. It is hard to imagine anything standing in the way of someone so determined to help others by learning about their situation, and then handing them the tools to change their lives for the better. Walter Smelt, III