Dr. Michael Rovito is an Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at the University of Central Florida and holds a Ph.D. in Public Health and an M.A. in Urban Studies. He is a Certified Health Education Specialist and the founder of a nonprofit called The Male Wellness Collective. He specializes in testicular self-examination and testicular cancer, male health behavioral change, and formative research. In Part 1 of this Pack Chat, we heard how Dr. Rovito first got interested in men’s health and his thoughts on various trends in men’s health research. Part 2 of the conversation goes a little deeper into his thoughts on wellness programs, social determinants, and more!
INTERVIEWER: So you’ve shared a lot of insights on men’s health in the context of the healthcare experience and broader public health initiatives, but I’m curious, what role do you think employers play in developing sustainable health programs that are more gender-inclusive?
DR. ROVITO: Well, I’m all about wellness programs, employer-based and others. For The Male Wellness Collective, we have a hiking program that is meant for companies or corporations to do with their employees. It’s centered around physical activity, but that’s not its sole purpose. We also focus on social health, social connectedness, and self-reflection. We incorporate all these different little activities and discussions, peppered throughout. The goal is for us to help males detach form their lives for a few hours, connect with themselves, others, and nature, and they reconnect with their lives after the hike to approach their responsibilities with a bit more clarity.
INTERVIEWER: That sounds cool!
DR. ROVITO: It really is. I think the problem with a lot of wellness programs when trying to target men, is that they tend to target the “stereotypical type” of man. A lot of guys couldn’t tell you what the Detroit Tigers baseball scores are or where the shortstop stands. And that’s fine. They can’t tell you what temperature perfectly grills a steak. And again, that’s totally fine.
But you see a lot of these programs are gearing towards this specific idea of a masculine man. A lot of males really don’t adhere to that. Many guys don’t really buy into programs because they’re not as inclusive. It’s important that we cater to all different types of guys and they feel like they are wanted and they have a role there.
INTERVIEWER: For sure. So when you’re thinking of tangible ways that employers can be more inclusive and raise awareness of men’s health issues, what does that look like for you?
DR. ROVITO: Well, number one is making guys feel welcomed and wanted in the health and wellness realm. If you do this one simple thing the rest would follow. We should talk with them, not at them.
The other thing is that with many programs, we make the mistake of just providing a call to action: “Go get checked.” Are they going to go? Probably not because they don’t feel accountable engaging in the health care system. It’s like teaching people how to fish versus give them a fish. You need to give them a rod and show them how to cast a line, reel it in. Show them how to fish and they can take care of themselves.
Then once they feel comfortable going to seek help, they’re going to go get their blood pressure checked without a program telling them to, which is the goal. They’re going to go get screened for cancer without a program telling them to, which is the goal. They’re going to do all these things that we want them to do without us pricking and prodding them if we just get them to feels comfortable opening up to us.
INTERVIEWER: That makes a lot of sense. You’ve mentioned screenings for a few chronic diseases, and I know that you’ve done research on health barriers and disparities where gender intersects with race and ethnicity. Can you talk a bit about these intersections and the trends you think are most important when it comes to chronic disease management?
DR. ROVITO: For sure. There are so many factors that make health disparities real and palpable. Men already have a shorter life span when compared to women. But when we’re seeing this pattern of minority men getting diagnosed with chronic diseases even later, that’s a serious issue for quality of life. Systemic prejudice and racism have a real impact on life expectancy.
For example, testicular cancer was previously thought to only affect white males. Caucasian males are the most at risk, but now, we’re seeing these trends among Hispanic men. Their incidence rate is increasing exponentially.
DR. ROVITO: Yeah. The bigger issue is that they’re getting a later-stage diagnosis when compared to white males. There’s access to healthcare, quality of care, and socioeconomic status issues that are preventing minority men from seeking care, in addition to the healthcare barrier of just being a man in general.
It’s actually a bit of a paradigm shift. They’re predicting that Hispanic males are the number one incidence group by 2040 or 2050, which is really odd. We’re trying to hypothesize why this is increasing so rapidly because there hasn’t been really a big smoking gun with testicular cancer and what’s causing it. But there’s some trending early research looking at Hispanic immigrant workers. They’re wondering if migrant workers that are exposed to pesticides and herbicides if that’s actually carcinogenic and is it potentially increasing their risk of testicular cancer
INTERVIEWER: Wow. So, you use the words paradigm shift, and you’ve talked a lot about how we need to get men comfortable engaging with healthcare resources – what do you think the solution is here? How can we reverse these trends?
DR. ROVITO: I think the first thing we’ve got to do is start thinking long term. Think in terms of decades instead of months. With that, I think we have to start making a more concerted effort of talking to young men and boys. We should start by creating touchpoints early on with these younger kids to make them feel comfortable accessing care when they’re younger. Then it doesn’t have to be an issue when they’re 50.
INTERVIEWER: That’d be an interesting longitudinal study. As we wrap up here, do you have any final words to share about the Male Wellness Collective?
DR. ROVITO: We’re trying to just provide services and opportunities for guys on their path towards health and wellbeing however they want to define it. I don’t think there are too many programs out there that actually allow guys to be themselves at the same time working towards a unified goal. We’re trying to find that delicate balance.