Belize Provides Training Ground for Public Health Student

By Ashley McNatt

It was all part of field work experience required as she works toward a Master of Public Health degree in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health — a common obligation.

What was uncommon was that Graham was the first College of Public Health student to do her work outside the United States.

Graham participated in a multidisciplinary learning experience through Hillside Health Care International in Eldridgeville, Belize.

The clinic is a United States-based nonprofit organization designed to improve and protect the quality of life of individuals, families and communities in the Toledo District of southern Belize. It provides medical care, disease prevention and health education free of charge to the people of southern Belize.

Students of varying disciplines — medical, physician assistant, pharmacy, physical therapy and public health — from the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia travel to the clinic to work for a month.

“We lived life just as the natives did in the Toledo District,” said Graham.

The Toledo District of Belize is the poorest of Belize’s districts with 79 percent living below the poverty line, while many have no access to running water or electricity. The culture is a mix of Mopan and Q’eqchi’ Maya, Creole, Garifuna, East Indians, Mennonites, Chinese, Mestizos, and descendants of U.S. Confederate settlers.

Graham worked with the Community Health Worker Outreach and Education Development program at the clinic. She created health education materials and taught the locals on specific health topics, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes management and family planning.

“One of the biggest barriers was trying to develop materials to educate people of so many different cultures and languages.” Graham said. “The low health literacy intensified the problem. Ultimately, we had to come up with alternative means for educating them in a way that would reach everyone.”

This experience opened Graham’s eyes to many global health and health care issues in Belize. She learned to identify with different health care structures and priorities of a developing country.

The clinic reached out to UAMS to create the partnership that allowed Graham to go to Belize.

Nick Zaller, Ph.D., associate professor and director of UAMS Office of Global Health, was Graham’s faculty advisor for the project.

“It was great to see that Candice was able to directly apply some of the skills she learned from her master’s program during her time in Belize,” said Zaller.

Opportunities like this exist for students at UAMS through the Global Health program. Zaller has created partnerships with many different countries, including Costa Rica, China and Ghana, where students can complete a global health experience. Additionally, courses began this fall for the new Global Health Certificate program.

“Candice’s experience embodies the connection between global and local health in many parts of the world,” said Zaller. “For example, some of the health challenges in Belize including low health literacy, diabetes and reproductive health are very similar to health challenges here in Arkansas.”

“The biggest takeaway from this experience was the fact that I got to strengthen my teaching skills by being able to learn and adapt based off the population I was serving,” says Graham.

Students interested in having an experience like Graham’s should contact Zaller. They should also check out the UAMS Global Health Interest Group for upcoming events.