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Interns pose with Health Science Center faculty and administrators
Interns pose with Health Science Center faculty and administrators. They are (left to right, front row): Pat Bortoni, project coordinator in the department of family and community medicine, environmental medicine education, RAHC; Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, Health Science Center president; Elaine Castillo, CDC intern; Rosa Lorenia Diaz, CDC Intern; Dr. Beatriz Tapia, CDC intern; Melina Rincon, CDC intern; Ashley Falcon, CDC intern; Dr. Leonel Vela, regional academic dean for the RAHC; (back row, left to right) Dr. Thomas Mayes, interim dean, Medical School, and Dr. Brian Herman, vice president for research.

Johns Hopkins, Stanford and University of South Florida students choose RAHC to study border health issues

November 2005

One physician, two aspiring physicians and two public health students learned about special health issues of the border region during an eye-opening internship offered for the first time ever in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Laredo.

The participants, who studied under the auspices of the Health Science Centerís 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 graduate of the Autonomous University of Puebla. Dr. Tapia completed her medical internship at the General Hospital in Reynosa and is completing her public heath degree at Johns Hopkins.

The interns were sponsored by the Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools (HSHPS)/U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) U.S.-Mexico Border Internship Program, which was coordinated through the Health Science Centerís Environmental Medicine Education Program at the RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen.

The South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) program was established 10 years ago as a part of the department of family and community medicine to provide residents, medical, nursing and public health students with a four-week elective on border health. The program is the brainchild of Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., professor and vice chair of family and community medicine, who is the STEER director. The environmental medicine rotation at the RAHC, modeled after STEER, was established in 2004 with the support of Dr. Miller and Leonel Vela, M.D., regional academic dean for the RAHC.

During the eight-week rotation at the two campuses, three-quarters of the internsí time was spent outside the classroom, in the community learning about a wide variety of public health, international health and environmental health concerns along the border, including pollution, sanitation, and infectious diseases such as rabies and tuberculosis. The focus was on how these challenges are being addressed on both sides of the border.

Roger Perales, environmental health coordinator for STEER, and Patsy Bortoni, project coordinator for the RAHC-Harlingen initiative, agree that the students benefit from being able to take public health out of the classroom and into the community. They said many students return to the border to gain additional public health experience and to practice.

Both Drs. Miller and Vela say they are grateful to the long list of community partners on both sides of the border who make all the RAHC programs in Harlingen and the Laredo STEER program so successful. The list includes more than 30 health care and educational institutions such as the City of Laredo Health Department; Mercy Ministries of Laredo; the Department of State Health Services, Region 11; the Starr County Community Action Council; and many others, in addition to Valley Baptist Medical Center and Su Clinica Familiar that provide essential support for the clinical training of RAHC students and residents.

"We look forward to continuing our collaborations in Laredo and establishing new partnerships in the Lower Rio Grande Valley," Dr. Miller said. "Everyone involved in the border health rotation should be proud that the HSHPS and CDC recognize the valuable lessons and rich experiences available to students who travel to South Texas to learn about environmental, international and public health."


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