One physician, two aspiring physicians and two public health students learned about the special health issues of the border region during an eye-opening internship offered for the first time ever in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The participants, who studied under the auspices of the Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), are from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of South Florida at Miami.
Rosa Lorenia Diaz and Melina Rincon are second-year medical students from Stanford, Ashley Falcon and Elaine Castillo are public health students from South Florida, and Dr. Beatriz Tapia is a physician who just completed her public health degree at Johns Hopkins. She is a graduate of the Autonomous University of Puebla and completed her medical internship at the General Hospital in Reynosa.
The Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools/U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) U.S.-Mexico Border Internship Program lasted four weeks in the Valley. The Health Science Center coordinated the internship through its Environmental Medicine Education Program at the RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen.
As part of their busy itinerary, the students visited two hospitals in Matamoros, toured the Brownsville Port Authority, and visited the Bayview Detention Center, where the medical and mental health needs of illegal aliens are addressed. They stopped by the Cameron County Health Department to observe migrant and indigent patient care, learned about animal-borne disease control at the Gladys Porter Zoo, and spent a day at the Texas State Department of Health Services regional office learning about a binational tuberculosis program and state regulation of food inspections.
“It has been a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Patsy G. Bortoni, project coordinator from the Health Science Center. “All of the participants are outstanding students who will be future leaders in medicine and public health. Their reactions to the rotation have been extremely positive. In fact, Elaine Castillo is now interested in pursuing a career with the U.S. Public Health Service Corps as a result of her interaction with the health care providers at the Bayview Detention Center.”
The experience with the RAHC Medical Education Division is of keen interest to Dr. Tapia, who may apply to do her internal medicine residency at the RAHC in Harlingen and remain in the Valley to practice.
In July, the students spent four weeks gaining similar experience in Laredo. “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 Valley, and on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., professor and vice chair in the Health Science Center’s department of family and community medicine. She is director of the South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) Program offered in Laredo.
“Participating interns gain 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,” Dr. Miller said.
Leonel Vela, M.D., regional dean of the RAHC, said: “We were 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.”