Public Health student presents research at conference in Mexico

Research conducted last summer by undergraduate students in the Department of Public Health was presented this month at an international public health conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Stephanie Manieri ’17 attended the 17 Congreso de Investigación en Salud Pública March 1-3 to present a poster based on field research examining osteoporosis risk factors among residents of two semi-rural communities in the Yucatan peninsula. Also involved with the research are Stephanie Hernandez ‘17, Nicole Grady ‘17, Danica Tse ‘17, and Lyzett Solis Chavez ‘17.

Last summer the students spent a month in Mexico, working as Dominican Global Health Fellows under the supervision of Dr. Patti Culross, Adjunct Associate Professor at Dominican, and Dr. Elda Pacheco, faculty researcher at Anáhuac Mayab University in Mérida. The undergraduates worked alongside medical students from Anáhuac Mayab University.

The Global Health Fellows program combines instruction and hands-on learning. It is designed for Dominican’s Public Health, Health Science, Nursing, and Occupational Therapy students in the School of Health and Natural Sciences to learn Spanish medical terminology, practice research skills, and experience fieldwork with real patients.

Dr. Pacheco first led students through the process of developing the research questions and the study design. The field work, which took place in Chablekal and Cholul, was conducted in Spanish. The Dominican students administered the questionnaire, while the medical students and a licensed nutritionist conducted the medical screenings.

“The intention was to have our students go through a certain amount of curriculum for public health students and then apply what they learned in the field,” Culross says. “It was a tremendous experience, and they learned a tremendous amount.”

For Stephanie, the experience also helped her earn a job with the Sonoma County Department of Public Health in their Health Policy, Planning, and Evaluation Division. While she was in Mexico, the county invited her to interview for a temporary position gathering data for a special project.

“I interviewed with them via Skype one morning while I was in Mexico, and I was able to explain how the skills I was learning at DUC and how the application of those skills in Merida made me very comfortable participating in their research and confident that I could do the job well,” Stephanie recalls.

Stephanie particularly enjoyed working alongside students from Mexico in the rural communities.

“One of the many things we learned about how public health is practiced in Mexico is that in order to work in the field as a researcher, practitioner, or health service provider, one must have a medical degree and then after specialize in public health,” she says. “So having the experience of working alongside med students really motivated me, personally, to work harder and think like a professional researcher.”

The purpose of the study was to investigate the association between certain modifiable lifestyle risk factors and Bone Mass Volume (BMV) among the residents. The findings being presented this week support the roles of age and the onset of menopause in lowering BMV, resulting in increased risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, and bone fracture. The team also found that higher BMIs resulted in increased BMV.  However, they did not find an association between modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, and alcohol use and low BMV.

Pacheco and several of the medical students will join Stephanie at the conference this week.

“The Public Health students have been able to see a research project go from the very early planning stages, to developing research questions, to writing up the findings, to presenting the research at a conference,” says Culross. “The experience has been excellent for everyone involved.”

Stephanie agrees: “My experience in Merida really took into account the amount of compassion that often is needed in public health when working with disadvantaged communities,” she recalls. “The fact that the med students we were working with were so down-to-Earth made me feel so fortunate to be a part of their research.”


March 1, 2017