Saturday, July 07, 2012

Summer in the Lou

As I'm sitting in my nicely air conditioned apartment in St. Louis, and very afraid to step outside into the 105 degree weather, I wonder if people think I'm crazy to not spend my last summer at home, in San Diego, where it definitely would not be too hot, and I'd be less than half an hour away from the beach. But, back in the spring semester, I knew I wanted to stay in St. Louis for the summer and do some sort of public health project. After all, I was going to spend three more years here. I thought I should get to know the city more, and get involved, especially in terms of healthcare.

My interest in public health started in undergrad. There, I had two awesome opportunities to travel to Mbarara, Uganda to do pollution research. My research advisor and our team were working with the nursing school in helping to build Holy Innocents Children's Hospital. The third anniversary of its opening was July 4th by the way! Anyway, as chemistry researchers, we wanted to see if opening the hospital would impact the Rwizi River nearby (ie. think hospital waste and its impact). The river serves as a water source for the community. So we looked for things like E. coli and Enterococci, organics, nitrates, etc. and talked to people about the importance of drinking clean water. I just thought it was really cool to be able to collect this data, and use it to educate people about things that can impact their health. Being a premed at the time, I had this idea that helping patients was just about treating whatever illness they came in with, but the experience in Uganda really got me into public health, and education, and learning that being sick isn't simply because a patient has giardia. Did they get it from drinking this water and not boiling it, etc.

One of the sampling sites at the Rwizi River-you can see how dirty it is...imagine drinking from this water.
 But that was how my interest in public health started, and I knew that once I got into medical school, I wanted to continue it in some way. Which, brings me to my summer project. Thanks to a fellowship grant by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, my research project is on identifying healthcare barriers (ie. insurance, language, transportation, etc.) in the Vietnamese community in St. Louis. Coming to St. Louis, I honestly did not even know that there was a pretty good sized Vietnamese community here, until I volunteered at the Hepatitis B clinic as a translator. Many immigrants from Vietnam settle in California, such as Orange County, or San Jose, or in Houston, Texas. But, as I've learned, St. Louis also has a significant Vietnamese refugee population. It's also unique in that the city hosted two waves of immigrants-one in the late 70s, and other in the early 90s. So, there's a population of Vietnamese who have most likely gone to school here, have jobs with health insurance, and have had much more time to settle here in the U.S. As you can probably imagine, both groups might have different issues or difficulties when it comes to obtaining healthcare, if any.

In order to identify these barriers, I'm going to be administering surveys to Vietnamese volunteers around the city. I haven't been able to start yet, since the first half of summer I had to work on getting IRB approval, but my first day of data collection will be Tuesday, so I'm definitely looking forward to that. There is a free Vietnamese clinic held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week in South St. Louis, through Catholic Charities, so I'm going to be able to talk to some of the patients there, and hopefully get this project going!


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