Frontera Students Conduct Health Education in Ambos Nogales

From June 19th -21st, 2017,  SEAHEC hosted students from the University of Arizona’s Focusing Research on the Border Area (FRONTERA) summer immersion program.  A collaboration among the University of Arizona, SEAHEC and local partners, the academic program helps students prepare for medical school and gain hands-on research experience through providing service to local communities. During their visit to the border region, the students visit Nogales Arizona, Nogales Sonora, and the Tohono O’odham Nation  where they learn about the unique challenges to public health in rural border communities and become exposed to local approaches to addressing public health issues.  The students also gain an “increased understanding of public health disparities in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region.” *

2017 Frontera Tour

The students stopped for a cool snack at Finitos, a local business in Nogales, Arizona since 1991.

Annual trips to Nogales Arizona and Nogales Sonora are organized by SEAHEC Student Training Opportunities Coordinator Erin Sol in collaboration with Alejandra Zapien Hidalgo, UA College of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Dra. Maria Esther Solís Blanco, epidemiologist for the Secretaria de Salud at Centro de Salud Urbano in Nogales, Sonora.

“This was an incredible experience, and I did not expect to learn so much… I am very thankful, and this will stay with me as I apply to medical school and forward.”

An Introduction to Epidemiology

Frontera group meets at SEAHEC in Nogales, Arizona

Frontera group at SEAHEC in Nogales, Arizona

Upon arrival at SEAHEC on the 19th, the students met with Mariana Casal, MD, MPH, Border Infectious Disease Surveillance Officer AzDHS for an introduction to Epidemiology, an overview of Arbovirus (viruses transmitted by mosquitos, ticks and fleas) They also received an introduction to our “Fight the Bite” Campaign, a local public health education initiative conducted by SEAHEC and partners to provide students with training opportunities while helping local communities prevent the spread of vector borne diseases such as dengue and zika virus. During the morning’s sessions, the students learned how to collect public health data using surveys and prepared “Fight the Bite” health information kits they would later distribute in the communities they planned to visit.

Community Approaches to “Fighting the Bite”

2017 Frontera Tour Fight the Bite Campaign Rio Rico

In the afternoon, the group headed out to Rio Rico, where they went door to door to distribute health information and collect data. They returned to SEAHEC with 67 surveys successfully completed and and having visited more than 200 homes. At SEAHEC, the students met with SEAHEC’s Executive Director, Gail Emrick MPH, to reflect on what they had learned during the day.

On Tuesday, the students traveled to the Tohono O’odham Nation where they met with Jeannette Garcia, who provided a tour of the Tohono O’odham Museum & Cultural Center. Later, the students talked to two local Community Health Representatives (CHRs) and learned about the community outreach services they provide their communities. Not only do they educate on preventing mosquito borne illnesses but also diabetes control, medication management and Heart Health to name a few. They ended the day with a tour of the Tohono O’odham Community Health Services facility in Sells, Arizona provided by Dr. Peter Reding.

2017 Frontera Tour

On their final day of the visit, the students traveled to Nogales Sonora, where they met with Dr. Maria Esther Solis Blanco, epidemiologist for the Secretaria de Salud, and with local promotores de salud (community health workers) to learn about the local “Patio Limpio” campaign, Sonora’s public health education initiative to stem mosquito borne illness. The group broke into teams and went door to door with the promotores to distribute information on controlling mosquitos, ticks and scorpions , fumigation safety, and the importance of rabies vaccines for pets. They also vaccinated more than 10 dogs and cats for rabies, under the supervision of Centro de Salud staff. It was a challenging day.

2017 Frontera Tour
2017 Frontera Tour

Accompanied by Dr. Solis Blanco, nurses, staff members and even one administrator from Centro de Salud Urbano in Nogales, Sonora, the students walked the hilly neighborhoods of Nogales Sonora in 110 degree heat, but the rewards were undeniable. 

“Nurses, students and even one member of [Centro de Salud] administration were participants in this great campaign knocking on people’s doors along with the students, said SEAHEC Program Assistant, Lupita Gonzalez, “Not only  was the heat  challenging  but also going to the houses on the hills of that particular area.”

“This was an incredible experience, and I did not expect to learn so much… I am very thankful, and this will stay with me as I apply to medical school and forward.”

Final Reflections

Frontera students meet at SEAHEC with Executive Director Gail Emrick for final reflections

Frontera students meet at SEAHEC with Executive Director Gail Emrick for final reflections

Finally, the students returned to SEAHEC and met with Ms. Emrick for “Final Reflections.” The final session provides an opportunity for students to discuss what they have learned, share new insights, and connect their learning experience to future career and study plans.

“I loved how passionate everyone is about caring for their community. It was so inspiring to get to visit, even for such a short period of time!”

One student remarked that the experience changed how students think about rural health care. “In my mind I always thought rural health facilities lacked the amenities that urban facilities had, but I got to see with my own eyes that they are equal in value, just on the smaller scale. They also seem to have a great community of workers and people who genuinely want to improve health care equity for all.”

Another student found inspiration. “I loved how passionate everyone is about caring for their community. It was so inspiring to get to visit, even for such a short period of time!”

* https://diversity.medicine.arizona.edu/frontera

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