Photo courtesy of Holt Cutler
For the sixth year in a row, students from Ichan School of Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai University spent their spring break in Arizona to learn about rural healthcare. Hosted by SEAHEC, the students toured local health facilities in Nogales, met with local health professionals, and organized health fairs during their stay, after which they visited the Tohono O’odham Nation.
The week began with an overview of rural and border health issues, presented by SEAHEC Executive Director, Gail Emrick, MPH, which provided context for the activities the students would engage in during their visit. They also toured the Mariposa Community Health Center (MCHC) where MCHC Director Dr. Eladio Pereira, MD, MBA, FACP, gave an overview of provider patient care in rural border communities.
While they were in Nogales, the group screened over 80 community members for high blood pressure and diabetes, and provided information on fall prevention at the Mexican Consulate and the Nogales Senior Center. They were assisted by staff from SEAHEC and community health workers, from MCHC, who provided linguistic interpretation. The Mt. Sinai group also met with MCHC clinic staff to learn about rural health care delivery, and gain their perspective on local health issues.
“I was very impressed with the medical systems in Nogales and all the people working on improving them further, ” said Mt. Sinai medical student, Holt Cutler, after touring MCHC facilities. “I found there to be much more support for practicing medicine in Nogales than I had expected,” he added.
SEAHEC provides a variety of opportunities for health professions students to get hands on experience in rural communities. One of our goals is to provide information and exposure that will encourage medical professionals to pursue their careers in rural communities in southeast Arizona. Rocky Ferrandino, one of the Mt. Sinai medical students, said the visit “Definitely made me reconsider my opinions and beliefs about working in a rural setting.”
Sameer Kham concurred, saying the visit was a “wonderful experience,” which motivated him to consider rural practice. Danielle Lee, who grew up in Hong Kong, said that meeting people who practice in rural communities helped her understand that rural health professionals enjoy a high quality of life and great satisfaction from working here.
Later in the week, the group visited the Tohono O’odham Nation to meet with tribal leaders and SEAHEC’s Future Healthcare Leaders Club members. They were welcomed by Jennie Becenti, Executive Director of the Tohono O’odham Department of Health and Human Services, (TODHHS) Rosemary Lopez, TODHHS Director. The students met with Dr. Peter Ziegler, Indian Health Services (IHS) Clinical Director and Acting Chief Medical Officer for an overview of IHS services, and learned how traditional healing practices are used by health practitioners from Louie Lopez, Behavioral Health Counselor III, who also gave a traditional blessing.
After touring the Nation’s health facilities, the group attended SEAHEC’s monthly meeting of the Future Health Care Leaders (FHL) Club at Baboquivari High School in Sells, as guest speakers. Club members discussed their career interests with the Mt. Sinai students, who shared college experiences, such as what it is like being a first year medical student in New York City. They also provided tips on finding mentors to help students explore career opportunities.
The Mt. Sinai students talked with Chairman Verlon José and Vice Chair Elaine Delanhanty, who represent Chukut Kuk District, one of 11 tribal districts that comprise the Tohono O’odham Nation. The tribal leaders provided an overview of Tohono O’odham Nation history, and discussed the impact of the US/Mexico border on the tribe’s communities which lie on both sides of the border.
The Mt. Sinai group wrapped up their visit on Friday with a trip to the Rio Rico fire department to learn about the Community Healthcare Paramedicine Program from Fire Chief Les Caid, later accompanying Rio Rico and Tubac fire fighters and MCHC staff on home visits.
The group met with SEAHEC Executive Director Gail Emrick, Dr. Pereira, and Rio Rico Fire Chief Les Caid at MCHC for final reflections on their learning experience. In reflecting on his experience here, Mt. Sinai student, James Yoon, said he “learned to appreciate the unique advantages of practicing in a rural community like Nogales and the Tohono O’odham nation.”
For more information on SEAHEC’s service learning opportunities contact Erin Sol, Coordinator for Student Training Opportunities.