Thus far, this is my second year doing public health research abroad and I couldn’t be happier that it is in a Spanish-speaking country. My first public health research experience was in St. Kitts and Nevis and it was through the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Training program, a relatively new and highly competitive research-training program funded by the NIH that has been sponsored by the UVA Center for Global Health since 2015. It was through this program that I started learning about public health, a field I was interested since high school without knowing what it was or looked like. Besides learning more about public health as a field, my MHIRT experience also provided the stepping-stones to my current CGH research in Bluefields, Nicaragua-a research experience that would truly teach me more about what public health research is and not just what it meant.
So what is public health research? It’s simply partnerships. To be honest, I just realized my previous sentence (it’s simply partnerships) can be considered an oxymoron since public health research, and global public health research especially, is not simple task and should not be defined in such a simplified manner, however I think I will take the risk. While there are so many puzzling parts to public health research such as defining your research question, figuring out the appropriate methodologies, determining how to recruit your sample population, submitting and adhering to your IRB protocol, developing grant proposals and many more, it always involve partnerships. There has to be some connection, a mutually beneficial and respectful partnership. For example, while my team and I had been planning this project since the end of November 2015, it was only through the partnerships built by our faculty mentor, Emma Mitchell, that we have been able to have all the interviews and focus groups we have had thus far.
In order to achieve the theoretical objective of this research project, which was to determine the cultural acceptability and feasibility of cervical cancer self-screening in Bluefields, Nicaragua, our faculty mentor and her contacts made it a possibility and our partnership with our in-country assistant made it a reality. While these two partnerships and teamwork in my research team were quintessential components of this research study, it was also sustained by a common goal. While I have realized the importance of communication and maintaining those partnerships, I have realized the second key to public health research was to have a common goal. While my teammates and I were primarily interested in learning about research, over time we all had one priority, a priority that we shared with our in-country assistant, our interviewees and focus groups members and this common priority or goal was: how can we eliminate cultural and non-cultural barriers that prevent women from preventing cervical cancer in Bluefields or getting screened early? It is this goal that inspired us with focus group questions that we never thought about as we were applying to conduct this research. It is this goal that motivated me when transcribing interviews seemed annoying or too hard (especially the few Spanish interviews we had.) It is not goal meant to solve women’s health issues in Bluefields or to come up with a solution, but it was just to understand what is already happening and what people think could work in the future.
While I hope this research will help provide the Bluefields Ministry of Health with some insight into the state of cervical cancer in Bluefields, I know our common goal and care about women’s health will be instrumental to sustain future partnerships and learning experiences.
– Yolande Pokam Tchuisseu