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Why Immersive Summer Programs Matter to Health Care Students

Read two first-hand experiences of how University of Arizona Health Sciences summer programs help future health care professionals get research experience and learn about health disparities.
University of Arizona Health Sciences

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

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

Emma Gallardo MartinezI'm studying public health for the same reason I want to go into the medical field, to close gaps in health inequities by working with people that often aren't included in statistics. Once I finish 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 fit many great experiences into one summer, like volunteering in a community, virtual clinical shadowing and writing workshops. Sometimes it's hard to do everything you need when you're on the pre-health track, and working in a lab has been fantastic. The faculty and researchers are happy to have us there, and I hope to continue working in this lab.

(from left) Fernanda Camargo, another FRONTERA participant, and Emma Gallardo Martinez examine Summa canisters used for air monitoring and sampling.I’m working in Dr. Paloma Beamer’s lab on a research project that focuses on reducing exposure to volatile chemicals in small businesses, such as hair salons and auto shops. A highlight of the research project was testing the air quality at beauty and auto shops and conversing with people.

The people in the lab speak Spanish, which is important since we focus on Hispanic- and minority-owned businesses. They need to know that their job shouldn't hurt them. Usually, they don't know how toxic certain products can be until we start working with them. We give individual results for each hair stylist and mechanic, so they understand what contains toxic chemicals and can consider swapping them with an alternative. With this research project, there's that satisfaction of impacting someone's life.

Martinez (center) and her fellow FRONTERA/BLAISER participants spent a hot Friday morning cleaning up streets in the community of Winchester Heights, about 95 miles east of Tucson.The trip to help with a clean-up in the community of Winchester Heights near Wilcox, Arizona, was enlightening. I learned more about how health inequities exist within a community, like how the number of uninsured people far surpassed the insured. Many people in that community couldn't go to the hospital nearby.

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

Tawanda Zvavamwe is a physiology major at the University of Arizona with a minor in emergency medicine and biochemistry.

Tawanda ZvavamweI aim 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 individuals and perform technically challenging procedures, which is what first interested me in the medical field. 

When I'm not in the lab or class, I usually volunteer as an emergency medical technician (EMT) with the University of Arizona Emergency Medical Services. Through volunteering, I've seen patients in the field before they get to the hospital. Every future physician should experience helping a person in critical condition get better over the short period you are with them.

The Border Latino and American Indian Summer Exposure to Research (BLAISER) program has been a blessing in disguise. Initially, I focused on research, but this program also had other benefits. It was an all-encompassing experience for a pre-med student like myself, from MCAT prep and virtual clinical shadowing to all of 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'm working in Dr. Brian McKay's lab, where we study how to cure age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness for people. My role investigates how and why a clinically proven drug can help treat the disease. I think we take our vision for granted, and I am fortunate to work on research that directly impacts people. 

Our trip to Wilcox, Arizona, for a community clean-up event left a lasting impression on me – especially the young girl translating between Spanish and English as we worked in groups cleaning up neighborhood streets.

Zvavamwe and his fellow FRONTERA/BLAISER participants at the community clean-up event near Wilcox, AZ.I grew up in Zimbabwe until I was around 8, and seeing her reminded me of myself. I was that bilingual kid helping my parents navigate a new country. But what stood out most to me was that although I was in a different country with a foreign language, I felt like I was back in Zimbabwe. I experienced a community struggling with a lack of resources but rich with a sense of community and love for their fellow men and women.

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

About the Author

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UArizona Health Sciences includes the UArizona Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy, and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix.

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