Why Immersive Summer Programs Are Important for Health Students

Summer programs through the University of Arizona Health Sciences Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion focus on fostering diversity in the health professions and preparing students for success in medical and postgraduate faculties. Two students, Emma Gallardo Martinez and Tawanda Zvavamwe, provided insight into their 10-week experiences.

Emma Gallardo Martinez is a public health graduate of the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

I’m studying public health for the same reason I want to go into the medical field, to close gaps in health inequalities by working with people who are often not included in statistics. After medical school, I aim to work where I grew up in South Phoenix and help underserved populations without good access to health care.

The Focusing Research on the Border Area (FRONTERA) program fits many great experiences into one summer, including volunteering in a community, virtual clinical observation, and writing workshops. Sometimes it’s hard to do everything you need to when you’re on the pre-health track, and working in a lab has been great. The faculty and researchers are happy to have us there, and I look forward to continuing to work in this lab.

(from left) Fernanda Camargo, another FRONTERA participant, and Emma Gallardo Martinez examine Summa containers used for air monitoring and sampling.I am working in the laboratory of Dra. Paloma Beamer in a research project that focuses on reducing exposure to volatile chemicals in small businesses such as hair salons and auto shops. One of the highlights of the research project was testing the air quality in beauty and car shops and talking to people.

The people in the lab speak Spanish, which is important since we focus on Hispanic and minority businesses. They need to know that their work shouldn’t hurt them. They usually don’t know how toxic certain products can be until we start working with them. We provide individual results for each hairdresser and mechanic, so they understand what toxic chemicals are in them and can consider switching to an alternative. With this research project, there is this satisfaction of impacting someone’s life.

Martinez (center) and fellow FRONTERA/BLAISER participants spent a hot Friday morning cleaning the streets of the Winchester Heights community, about 95 miles east of Tucson.The trip to help with a cleanup in the Winchester Heights community near Wilcox, Arizona was enlightening. I learned more about how health disparities exist within a community, such as how the number of uninsured far outnumbered the insured. Many people in this community could not go to the nearest hospital.

FRONTERA/BLAISER program coordinator Genesis Garcia presents Martínez with her certificate of completion at the closing ceremony in mid-August.This experience of talking to people and learning about the harms of health care in their community is why I wanted to do FRONTERA in the first place.

Tawanda Zvavamwe holds a Bachelor of Science in Physiology from the University of Arizona with a minor in Emergency Medicine and Biochemistry.

We have many othersMy goal is to attend medical school to pursue a specialty in emergency medicine, trauma surgery, or transplant surgery. These specialties would provide the opportunity to connect with people and perform technically difficult procedures, which is what first got me interested in the medical field.

When I’m not in the lab or classroom, I usually volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the University of Arizona Emergency Medical Services. Through volunteering, I have seen patients in the field before arriving at the hospital. All future doctors should help a critically ill person get better during the short time you are with them.

The Border Latino and American Indian Summer Exposure to Research (BLAISER) program has been a blessing in disguise. I initially focused on research, but this program had other benefits as well. It was an overall experience for a pre-med student like me, from the MCAT preparation and virtual clinical observation to all the support from the program coordinator, Genesis Garcia, and the program director, Dr. Allison Huff .

Zvavamwe feeds porcine pigmented epithelial cells used in his experiments because of their bright pigmentation.For my research project, I am working in the laboratory of Dr. Brian McKay, where we study how to cure age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people. My paper investigates how and why a clinically proven drug can help treat the disease. I think we take our vision for granted, and I’m lucky enough to work on research that directly affects people.

Our trip to Wilcox, Arizona for a community cleanup event left a lasting impression on me, especially the young woman who translated from Spanish to English as we worked in groups cleaning up neighborhood streets.

Zvavamwe and fellow FRONTERA/BLASER participants at the community cleanup event near Wilcox, AZ.I grew up in Zimbabwe until I was 8, and seeing her reminded me of myself. I was that bilingual kid helping my parents navigate a new country. But what stood out to me the most was that even though I was in a different country with a foreign language, I felt like I was back in Zimbabwe. I lived in a community that struggled with lack of resources but rich with a sense of community and love for its fellow men and women.

Zvavamwe takes a moment to catch up with staff and students at the BORDER/BLAISER program closing ceremony.As I reflect on my goal to help cure age-related macular degeneration and revolutionize medicine, experiences like the one we had at Wilcox remind me that even small acts like picking up trash and giving voice to a small community, they are just as important. .

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