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Student Physician Assistants Volunteer in Oaxaca Village Public Health Clinic

Two students enrolled in the Physician Assistant program at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, will do a one-month volunteer clinical residency at the public health clinic in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this summer.  Meagan Parsons and Benjamin Cook, who will both graduate in December 2013, land in Oaxaca next week!  Needless to say, they are excited.

And, we are grateful for their service.  They will work alongside local doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to support delivery of primary health care services to a rural and growing village of 8,000 people.

For those of you who don’t know, Physician Assistants (PA’s) are master’s degree prepared health care professionals who are trained to practice as part of a physician-led team.   This is usually a two-year program that includes a first year of classroom coursework followed by a second year of clinical rotations.

Nurse Practitioners (master’s prepared nurses who provide direct patient care) and PA’s are meeting the demands of our U.S. health care system, especially in underserved areas where there is a lack of adequate medical services.   Immigrant populations who speak Spanish and have cultural impressions of a health care system that hasn’t always provided access to quality treatment benefit from these professional services.  

Meagan Parsons, Benjamin Cook and Professor Deborah Morris, M.D., P.A.

Meagan Parsons, Benjamin Cook and Professor Deborah Morris, M.D., P.A.

Both Ben and Meagan speak Spanish and the experience will give them a chance to improve their language skills and learn more about how health care is delivered in rural Mexico.  What they learn will help them translate the experience to their own professional goals to work in rural North Carolina communities after they graduate.

Meagan graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009 with an undergraduate degree in biology and a minor in Spanish for health care professionals.  She worked as a nursing assistant in a pediatric surgical unit before she decided to go on for the P.A. degree.  This will be her first trip to Mexico and Meagan is eager for the immersion experience that she knows will give her a greater understanding for the emotional and cultural issues facing North Carolina’s immigrants.  When she graduates from Methodist, she plans to return to Rockingham County where she will practice in a small-scale rural community working with Spanish-speaking populations.

Ben Cook completed his undergraduate degree in human biology and Spanish from North Carolina State University in 2011.  He always wanted to pursue a medical career and he wanted more time to have a family and be involved with family life.  He feels that by becoming a P.A., he will have the best of both worlds.  He chose Methodist University because it has a high pass rate on the national certifying examination and there is a dedicated laboratory for student use.   Like most men who pursue a career in health care, Ben wants to go to work in either the Emergency Department or in Urgent Care where the fast-paced excitement prevails.  He feels the Oaxaca experience will give him better ways to connect with patients here in the U.S.

Deborah Morris, M.D., P.A., is the faculty member who supervises the cultural immersion program in Teotitlan del Valle for Methodist University.  She says this experience is essential for giving students a broader perspective of the world and the ways that health care is delivered in a system that is different than ours in the U.S. She says, There is a flow of people between Oaxaca and North Carolina.  It is helpful for students to have this experience to be more effective as P.A.’s.

For the village of Teotitlan del Valle, the students will trail and support the work of Mexican doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and dentists.  They will start out doing basic health assessments and physical diagnosis, assist in giving innoculations, and update handwritten medical records.  As they get to know the population and their needs, they will develop a health education project with local participation and input, that can be used for continuing health care improvement.  The biggest health care issues in Oaxaca are women’s and children’s health, pre-natal care, diabetes and its prevention, and cancer treatment.

Meagan and Ben will overlap with UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing student Leonora Tisdale who arrived to volunteer in the clinic in early June.  I am so gratified to be able to organize this experience that benefits the students, the people of Teotitlan del Valle, and people here in the U.S. who will be better served as a result of Leonora, Meagan and Ben’s immersion.

I work with universities to place students in the health professions for a volunteer experience in the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic. Please contact me for more information.

 

 

Oaxaca Health Clinic Welcomes Carolina Nursing Students


The School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill encourages students to develop the knowledge and skills needed to provide quality care in global environments and to recent immigrants to the United States. Students can do this by taking a summer course and meet requirements by volunteering with a nongovernmental organization or local health care agency in a global health setting.

One such agency is the El Centro de Salud in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The public health clinic offers preventive family care as well as low-level emergency services for about 8,000 residents of the village. At the clinic, Carolina nursing students get hands-on practice in a cross-cultural learning environment.

Teotitlan del Valle is in rural southern Mexico, about 17 miles (about 30 minutes) outside of the city of Oaxaca in the Tlacolula valley. In this centuries-old indigenous village many of the older residents speak only Zapotec — the predominant language of the region — and only know a smattering of Spanish. The area is high desert plateau at about 6,000 feet altitude, nestled at the foot of the 9,000-12,000 Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. There are 2,000 looms in the village, which is known for its fine textiles.

Since 2008, Carolina nursing students have spent several weeks during the summer before their senior year living with a family and working alongside local doctors and nurses. The program was established by Norma Hawthorne, director of advancement for the School of Nursing, who has a long-term relationship with a village leader, Federico Chavez Sosa. In 2007, she asked if a UNC Chapel Hill nursing student could live, work, learn and share in an intercambio – an intercultural exchange and the opportunity was launched.

Today, Mr. Chavez Sosa heads the committee responsible for the village’s public health, including the clinic – one of the newest and most modern in the region. He talked to us recently about the community health concerns articulated by the new governor of the state of Oaxaca, Gabino Cue. Women’s and children’s health is a high priority, especially pre-natal care, labor and delivery. Mr. Chavez Sosa is interested in having many more Carolina nursing students participate in the experience. He notes that the village values participation by Carolina students because of their knowledge, dedication and contributions.

Students receive academic credit for NURS 489 Practicum in Nursing: Global Health Experience. This class is specifically designed for students with an interest in traveling abroad so that they may learn about health systems and the nursing profession in other countries. The academic program director is Christine Harlan, BSN, RN, MA, (chris_harlan@unc.edu). Some financial help may be available to students through various funding sources.

A History of UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing Volunteers in Teotitlan del Valle:

2008 – Leilani Trowell

Leilani traveled the village by foot with local nurses to immunize children in their homes, did patient intake in the clinic, and assisted in out-patient procedures.

2009 – Lindsay Bach

Lindsay developed a diabetes education program for village women that included exercise and fitness as well as healthy food choices and recipes.  She had spent two years in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan before coming to Carolina for nursing.

2010 – Amy Faline Davenport

Amy was a doula and interested in women’s health, prenatal care, birthing and post delivery, and assisted in birthing procedures.  She had already earned the MPH and decided to become a nurse.

2011 – Kathy Ray

Kathy is pursuing her second degree and is the mother of three older teenagers.  The experience will give her an opportunity to brush up on Spanish language skills as well as preparing her to care for new NC immigrants from Mexico.

Photos feature Lindsay Bach, BSN, RN who graduated in December 2009.