The South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) Program, part of the Health Science Center, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are teaming up to offer South Texas’ first Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools (HSHPS)/CDC U.S.-Mexico Border Internship Program.
The first three interns, who include two students from the Stanford University School of Medicine and a physician in the master’s degree program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, are scheduled to arrive in Laredo July 10 and start four weeks of STEER course offerings the next day. About three-quarters of their time will be spent outside the classroom, in the community. The interns will learn about a wide variety of public health, international health and environmental health concerns along the border, including pollution, sanitation, and infectious diseases such as rabies and tuberculosis. The focus will be on how these challenges are being addressed on both sides of the border.
On Aug. 5, the internship shifts to Harlingen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where the students will spend four weeks participating in experiences offered through the Environmental Medicine Education program of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen also is operated by the Health Science Center.
“We call it the 4 + 4 Border Internship Program, and the idea is to enable these trainees to learn about a wide range of community concerns in two locations—Laredo and the Lower Rio Grande Valley – and on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said STEER Director Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., professor and vice chair in the Health Science Center’s department of family and community medicine. “Participating interns will have direct exposure to the gravity of the health issues that public health workers in this region routinely encounter, issues that have the potential to affect every U.S. citizen, such as the entry of hazardous cargo through the border or the spread of infectious diseases such as rabies or drug-resistant tuberculosis. The interns will meet mentors who specialize in border health, participate in border health seminars and public health clinics, visit the regions’ colonias and conduct formal site visits to public health departments on both sides of the border.”
Leonel Vela, M.D., regional dean of the RAHC, said: “We are thrilled to host these students who applied to this program over other available offerings because of their strong interest in border health. We hope that these will be the first of many future CDC interns to visit and learn from our communities. We know that some students are so inspired by their experiences at the border that they seek further training in public health and even return here to practice. This internship provides them with a sense of South Texas and the health care challenges present on the border.”
Dr. Miller, who over the past decade has described a new model of disease called “toxicant-induced loss of tolerance,” or TILT, and individual susceptibility to pollutants, will provide instruction on these subjects, as well as on environmental triggers for asthma. The interns also will participate in “environmental house calls” – supervised visits to the homes of children with asthma to help families identify and eliminate household asthma triggers. Each intern will write a final report based on experiences in the program.
The HSHPS is a non-profit organization that represents 22 medical schools and five public health schools nationwide. Its goals are to help medical and public health schools to attract and retain Hispanic faculty members and administrators, to help schools develop educational activities that will enable Hispanic and non-Hispanic students to provide outstanding health care to Hispanics, to promote collaboration at the national level to improve the health of Hispanics, and to help set policy on issues affecting Hispanic health.