Students experience challenge of global health fieldwork

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Public health student Juan Santiago (back, standing) observes a Dominican health promoter teaching a cardiovascular health education class.

Dr. Wayne Westhoff and Dr. Jaime Corvin of the Department of Global Health, USF College of Public Health, traveled to the Dominican Republic this May on a yearly academic and field study with public health students Brian Cull, Juan Santiago and Rebecca Sorenson. The course was Global Health Challenges, and this year students experienced some common challenges faced by researchers working globally.

The students first received training in the United States in two health promotion programs: cardiovascular health education classes and breast self-exam training. Then they worked with community partners in the Dominican Republic in collaboration with Fundación Familia Sana – Dominican Republic, a non-profit organization active in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Tampa.

Students learned the importance of community-based work, participating in a train the trainer program and working side-by-side with community partners to implement an eight-session health education program, Dr. Corvin said. While the students have since returned to USF, community partners continue the Ama tu Corazon (Love your Heart) cardiovascular health education program — promoting cardiovascular health, educating about risk factors and strategies to reduce risk, using culturally appropriate and language-sensitive materials.

“For me, this experience was great.. The students did a tremendous job,” Dr. Corvin said. “We talk about community-based work, implementation techniques and pitfalls in the classroom. However, getting your feet muddy (literally) is where you really learn!”

Dominican promatura, or health promoter, Altagracia (second from left) with USF public health students (left to right) Brian Cull, Rebecca Sorenson and Juan Santiago.

Students learned some of the challenges of fieldwork first hand and were forced to make their own decisions when faced with the unexpected, Dr. Corvin said. Additionally, they learned the importance of working closely with the community, she added.

“Compared to the United States, the Dominican Republic has higher rates of poverty, higher rates infectious diseases, lack of housing, lower access to clean water among a plethora of public health issues,” said student Rebecca Sorensen. “But despite the health challenges that face the population, they embrace life with courage, determination and a fierce commitment to their family and friends. What I will most remember about my time spent in the DR is the warmth of the people and how I was accepted into their homes and lives; it is a rare and precious gift.”

The group also initiated a breast health education campaign with community health workers to educate on early detection of breast cancer. As a Mammacare specialist, Dr. Corvin also trained two physicians and three nurses in the MammaCare method of breast examination, an advanced technique used by health professionals during clinical breast exams and for teaching patients breast self examination.

Left to right: Dr. Wayne Westhoff and Dr. Jaime Corvin, both of the Department of Global Health, USF College of Public Health, with Doctora Flavia Garcia, Secretary of State of Women in the Dominican Republic.

Drs. Westhoff and Corvin met with Doctora Flavia Garcia, the Secretary of State of Women, to discuss the MammaCare project. Drs. Westhoff and Corvin were invited by Dr. Garcia to submit a proposal to expand breast self-examination training in the country.

Fundación Familia Sana–Dominican Republic expressed their thanks to USF faculty and students for working side-by-side with them on some important health challenges. The organization also works with other public health issues, such as school programs, HIV/AIDS, disaster management, and domestic violence, in collaboration with Fundación Familia Sana in Tampa.

Dr. Westhoff later returned to the Dominican Republic for meetings with Washington University, the Ministry of Education, and Fundación Familia Sana to begin planning a USF project on adolescent suicide.

Story by Susan James and Dr. Jaime Corvin
Photos by Dr. Jaime Corvin

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