Dr. Ana Alfaro: A voice for senior Veterans at VA and in the Senate

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April 17, 2022
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Dr. Ana Alfaro

For Dr. Ana Alfaro serves as a Research Fellow in the Advanced Fellowship Program in Geriatrics at Palo Alto VA. That means Alfaro is detailed to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, where she informs the Senate committee of issues related to the care of aging Americans.

Alfaro says her determination remained unwavering from a young age as she watched her parents work hard to ensure she had a bright future. As the only child of Cuban immigrants, the importance of education was instilled into her at a young age.

“Becoming a doctor has been molded [onto me] by my parents, who were both engineers in Cuba but were not able to continue their profession here. I can say all of their sacrifices were not in vain,” said Alfaro.

Older Hialeah population underserved

Alfaro grew up in the predominately Spanish-speaking and older community of Hialeah, Florida. There, mental health was not a common conversation, if it was discussed at all. She was able to see how underserved this population was and how little resources were available.

As an undergraduate in psychology, she had initially wanted to be a sport psychologist. She worked at the school gym and had an opportunity to train an 85-year-old woman with osteoporosis. That experience sparked her interest in helping older adults, but it was an internship with a local senator that gave her a taste of policymaking.

“Being born under a communist regime in Cuba, it was a thrilling experience to see people using their voice to make a change in the government. I realized pairing my love for older adults and helping to change policy could impact the lives of people in my community who don’t often get the attention they need,” said Alfaro.

Using technology to increase access

These two experiences set the stage for her career trajectory. Alfaro was a geropsychology intern at Palo Alto VA. After completing her internship, she received a doctorate in clinical psychology.

Alfaro went on to her current position in the Advanced Fellowship Program in Geriatrics at Palo Alto VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center (GRECC). She also  became a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Alfaro’s professional interest focuses on increasing access to mental health services to underserved aging populations. One way she is doing this is by leveraging technology as a means of increasing access.

Through a GRECC clinical demonstration program, she teaches older Veterans how to use mental health mobile apps as an innovative means to address their well-being goals.

Opening doors for others to get involved

Alfaro recently received funding to test a six-week telehealth group intervention for older Veterans with problematic drinking. The intervention aims to coach older Veterans on how to use the VA mobile app VetChange for self-management.

She will be on a year-long track with the Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program, which will offer her a unique training opportunity to focus on policy issues, communication skills development and professional networking.

“As a psychologist, I feel like we are not typically trained to be in policy, so I hope I can open doors for others to get involved. It’s important for those interested in this field to use their voice for the common good and that is exactly what I am trying to do,” said Alfaro.

Visit the Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program website to learn more about the program and how Alfaro will be shaping U.S. policy.

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