Public Health Hits the Road

Last May, fourteen students moved out of the classroom and a few hundred miles south to the Rio Grande Valley to immerse themselves in healthcare in one of the state’s most under-resourced and rapidly growing areas. Scattered among different hospitals, laboratories and community centers, students spent the summer learning from the people who think about public health here every day: doctors, administrators and researchers.

“Over the last decade, our summer internship has exposed over 100 undergraduates to real public health experiences in the Rio Grande Valley,” says Leanne Field, director of the Public Health Program in the School of Human Ecology. “This is a formative experience for students interested in preventive medicine and disease detection.” 

Bryan Palma, a junior from Spring, Texas, made the journey, spending two months at Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen. He and his cohort worked with patients and hospital staff to improve the quality of care. While at Valley Baptist, he learned details about healthcare policy, how to incorporate technology into care, and how to match care to guidelines set out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

“I saw the multifaceted nature of public health through the smiling faces of community health workers as well as the network and information technology specialists at the hospital,” says Palma. “I had many opportunities to interact with patients. The highlight was certainly the people.”