MPH Panama Practicum 2012: I Left My Heart In Panama

July 13, 2012
Author: Maurice Jackson

My experience in Panama has been a rollercoster. To late nights and early mornings, to disagreements with cohorts, and to interacting directly with patients that we constantly read about in class. I must say, this experience was well worth it. I couldn’t have asked for a better group or better staff.

I worked with the clinic group and we conducted surveys to patients regarding their satisfaction with the clinic, health concerns, and other basic demographic information. We were met with language challenges considering most people spoke Spanish and my Spanish is somewhat rusty. Also, many of the indigenous patients spoke little to no Spanish, which proved to be difficult. I was able to also survey patients regarding what types of health promotional methods they preferred–printed materials or television PSAs. Yes, the clinic had two televisions, which I thought would be perfect for health PSAs to be shown as people wait for two, three, or possibly four or more hours in the waiting room. I decided to design a HIV/AIDS fact sheet as my deliverable. I lack the time, resources, and creativity to do a television PSA. Panama, along  with Belize has the worst HIV/AIDS rate in Central America. According to patient surveys, it was the biggest health concern they had compared to oter diseases. I would love to test my fact sheet to see if it causes an increase in HIV testing. But that’s far reaching…or maybe not.

This trip has definitely changed my perspective on public health. Although I am on the Bio/Epi track, I realized I probably should’ve focused on Health Communications or Health Education and Promotion. They are strong areas of mine that I did not realize until I came on this trip. Additionally, I realized I would love to work abroad and fous on global health. I am in the works on trying to return to Panama considering I did leave a piece of my heart here (through the research that my cohorts and I conducted).

I encouraged anyone who is thinking of doing a practicum to just jump up and do it. You may have never have the opportunity to do it again. You will learn so much about yourself in these two weeks that it will blow your mind. I am grateful for many of the tools that I gained in my classes, particularly in 501, a class taught by Dr. Tess Cruz. I feel confident in the work that I have completed.

Panama 2012 Cohorts

I’d like to thank Lourdes, Kathleen, Rosa, Mama Estelle, Dr. Calvo, Lourdes A., Araseli, and many others.

More about the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of 15 University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. The students have been divided into three groups to work on maternal and child health, vaccination, environmental infectious diseases, nutrition and physical activity.

One group will be surveying patients about the healthcare system at a local clinic and proposing interventions to improve vaccination, infant development and women’s health. Another group will be in the field responding to outbreaks of environmentally spread infectious diseases and working to control common vectors such as mosquitoes. The last group will be calculating body mass index measurements for elementary school students and developing methods to improve nutrition and exercise within the school.

During their trip, the students will also be attending lectures on Panama’s healthcare system and statistics as well as visiting a remote indigenous tribe. Before leaving Panama, each student will be providing a deliverable that is intended to improve health in Panama.

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