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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Bridging border health

    A paid internship to Mexico’s border this summer not only gave a few graduate students from regional universities a better knowledge of the Hispanic health care system, but also improved their research skills with hands-on training to take into the future.

    The closing ceremony for FRONTERA, a 10-week program that takes applicants to the U.S.-Mexico border region to study medicine in their applied field of interest, commenced last Wednesday as interns gave presentations on their findings.

    “”We had very accessible resources here the UA. The staff has been very helpful – always accessible for questions, feedback, interviews, and just guidance for our projects,”” said Amanda Gutierrez, a student at New Mexico State University. “”It’s nice coming from a smaller university to see such an established facility just for health sciences and students like us.””

    Gutierrez was one of four students among Kelsey Vaughan (Central European University), Katherine Svensson (University of Puerto Rico) and Maritza Valenzuela (Columbia University) who came from out of state this year to work with professors and researchers in the College of Medicine, who extended their previous studies and corresponded with the students on a regular basis as mentors.

    Students began by selecting areas of interest in border health, disease prevention or health promotion and were then matched up with professors who work in that specific research area, said Oscar Beita, the program director at the College of Public Health.

    “”They meet with mentors and go over statistical program agenda once a week and touch base,”” he said. “”We also plan a number of tours or attend different meetings, because we believe it gives them a better idea of the issues that affect the border area.””

    One of these tours was a trip offered through BorderLinks, a bi-national organization that offers educational seminars about economic and social issues along the border, in order to give interns a better grasp of the policies and culture of the area.

    Valenzuela extended previous research done by a FRONTERA intern last year to study the efficiency of health promotion set up with various banking groups and through EnComún, an organization helping merchants in Mexico set up their own businesses to become more self-sufficient.

    “”It was a challenge and an adjustment to work in a different country,”” Valenzuela said. “”And even though Nogales is just on the other side of the border, it is sort of a whole different working environment.””

    The interns reported learning how to better collect data, conduct surveys, compile research and write grants to apply for funding to support future projects.

    “”I think the idea is to provide students with opportunity to develop their skills in research,”” Beita said, “”giving them the hands-on experience to help them understand problems that exist in their areas of medicine.””

    FRONTERA is open for students to apply nationwide, and last year it had three applicants from the UA. This year, it had only one UA applicant from about 20 total applications, Beita said.

    “”I believe the internship can become better,”” Beita said. “”We are in conversations with (the College of Public Health) about having a closer relationship, so we make sure students in public health know more about the program.””

    Tomas Nuño, a UA graduate with a doctorate in epistemology, said he feels the internship is essential for students who want to pursue careers working with border health issues.

    Nuño said he finds that the experience is supremely beneficial to people from outside the area who do not fully grasp the idea of living so close to the border.

    “”It’s more than just reading about things in books,”” Nuño said. “”This is them seeing it first-hand when they get set up out there. It puts the research in practice, and it’s a great experience for them.””

    Nuño traveled to the border near Yuma, Ariz. last year to study how educational programs can increase the probability of women getting screened for breast and cervical cancer, and tracked mobile clinics in rural areas where people often do not get basic health services they need to prevent disease.

    “”It was good to see those things and see what’s going on,”” Nuno said. “”We’re just trying to increase the knowledge in areas that don’t have those resources-just trying to make a difference, I guess.””

    Each year, the UA College of Medicine applies for funding to continue the FRONTERA program from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hispanic Serving Health Professions Schools.

    According to data from HSHPS, only 8.8% of the Hispanic workforce is in the health industry, and about 30% of all Hispanic adults from 18-64 have no regular source of health care. Data has also shown that a fifth of Spanish-speakers report not seeking medical advice because of possible language barriers.

    From the presentations, the interns expressed an across-the-board awareness of the lack of substantial prior research available in their areas of study-from the low participation of Hispanics in clinical cancer trials, to factors of stress that plague migrant farm workers in Yuma.

    ǪI think people hear about it, but there are a lot of other problems that take the headlinesólike immigration and drug smugglingóbut these are big issues as well, and some might be related to those issues, especially immigration,ǩ Nuño said. ǪItís good to get the information out there. It definitely should be a priority in health care.ǩ

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