MPH Panama Practicum 2012: Wiping the sweat off our brows.

July 12, 2012
Author: Stephanie Be

While everyone is writing songs of glory about all the fun we’re having (hello, Abuelo Ron), I would like to take a moment (just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became … ) and remind everyone how much we have been SWEATING here! We’ve actually been quite lucky and been in a shelter every time it has really started to pour (with the exception of our journey to the Embara community), but because it hasn’t rained much, the humidity is just something else! For the last week, the maternal / family health / vaccines group has been running around interviewing patients in a sweaty, crowded clinic, dripping sweat on patients and children as we try to ask them questions. We’ve ditched our long pants and professional shirts for shorts and t-shirts as we realized just how unbearable it is to sweat in long sleeves for hours on end. Luckily, we’ve been able to collect a phenomenal amount of data that I hope will show some interesting correlations upon our return.

I’d also like to take a minute to point out how giggly and silly we have all gotten over the last two weeks. I think the exhaustion and heat are getting to us all just a little bit. The energy today as everyone finished up their deliverables and presentations was so positive and relieved and energetic. Over the last couple of days as we’ve been finishing up collecting data and analyzing it, putting together posters, handouts, and flyers, and trying to understand exactly what it is we’re doing, the air has been a little tense. We’ve snapped at each other and gotten in fights, but as the stress lifts so do our moods. Getting to go to the school, where they put on a show for us with singing, dancing, plays, and poems, was so special. The kids really appreciate the work the school group did, and getting a final farewell from the director of the clinic was nice for us as well. After a little bit of gratitude that was so rewarding and a lot of bit of napping that was so necessary, we’ve kissed and made up and were treated to a delicious dinner and show tonight.

Goodbye hugs for Jess
I have such mixed feelings about tonight and tomorrow. On one hand, I can’t wait to go home and take a long shower that doesn’t scald and then freeze me, I can’t wait to snuggle in my own non-bunk bed with my puppy, I can’t wait to be alone for just FIVE minutes already.. but on the other hand, I could stay here in Panama with this group of crazy kids for another month at least. I’ve learned so much and had such amazing experiences with people I barely even knew when we left, and I couldn’t have asked for a better practicum experience. Karaoke-ing with the professors, Rosa, and Mama Estella certainly didn’t hurt, either. We 15 students from the MPH program, led by faculty at IPR and in Preventive Medicine, L. Baezconde-Garbanati and K. Dwyer, and logistician Rosa Barahona.. and Mama Estella… have been having a fabulous, crazy, chaotic, rewarding experience down here in Panama.

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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