Why Immersion Summer Programs Are Important for Healthcare Students

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

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

I am studying public health for the same reason I want to go into medicine, to fill the gaps in health disparities by working with people who are often not included in the statistics. After I graduate 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 packs a lot of great experiences into one summer, such as community volunteering, virtual clinical supervision, and writing workshops. Sometimes it’s hard to do everything you need to when you’re on the road before health, and working in a lab was 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 containers used for air monitoring and sampling.I work 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 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-owned businesses. They need to know that their work should not 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 can understand what contains toxic chemicals and consider replacing them with an alternative. With this research project, there is this satisfaction of impacting someone’s life.

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

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

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

We have many othersMy goal is to attend medical school to major 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 got me interested in the medical field.

When I’m not in the lab or in the classroom, I usually volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the University of Arizona Emergency Medical Services. Thanks to volunteering, I have seen patients in the field before they reach the hospital. Every future doctor should have experience helping a critically ill person get better in the short time they are with them.

The Border Latino and American Indian Summer Exposure to Research (BLAISER) program is a true blessing. I initially focused on research, but this program had other benefits. It was a comprehensive experience for a pre-med student like me, from MCAT preparation and virtual clinical follow-up to all the support from the program coordinator, Genesis Garcia, and the program director, Dr. Alison Huff.

Zvavamwe fed porcine pigmented epithelial cells used in his experiments because of their bright pigmentation.For my research project, I work in Dr. Brian McKay’s lab, where we study how to treat age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in humans. My role explores how and why a clinically proven drug can help treat disease. I think we take our vision for granted, and I’m fortunate 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 girl who translated from Spanish to English as we worked in groups cleaning neighborhood streets.

Zvavamwe and his fellow FRONTERA/BLAISER participants at the community cleanup event near Wilcox, Arizona.I grew up in Zimbabwe until I was about 8 and seeing her reminded me of myself. I was that bilingual kid helping my parents navigate a new country. But what stood out the most for me was that even though I was in another 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 in 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 FRONTERA/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 actions like picking up trash and giving a voice to a small community are equally important.

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