Robert E. Bryan Public Service Fellowship enables grad student to address community need

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Engaged research can be an inspiring experience for graduate students, and the Robert E. Bryan Public Service Fellowship offers the opportunity for that work to become a reality for graduate students.

2010 Bryan Fellow Leah Gordon, a second-year master’s student in the department of Health Behavior and Health Education, implemented a summer service project that helped contribute to the future of one community organization. At the same time, the project also gave Gordon the data she needed to further her qualitative research.

Interested in studying Latino health, specifically health disparities, Gordon wanted to know what kind of health problems Latino farmworkers experience. “I have done work in Latin America with urban Latino populations, but Latinos who migrate temporarily to work face a different set of health issues while in the U.S.,” she explained.

Gordon collaborated with the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program and focused on Latino workers in seafood processing plants in Elizabeth City and Aurora, N.C. She conducted qualitative interviews to better understand this Latino community, their health issues while working in the United States and their barriers to accessing care. “I showed up at workers’ housing complexes fully expecting no one to want to talk to me. I was surprised by how open and welcoming they were,” she said.

On the surface, Gordon saw that these workers lived in better conditions than agricultural workers; however, they found that transportation was an issue for them. Regarding health, Gordon’s analysis discovered that workers suffered from reproductive issues and sexually transmitted diseases, and they had trouble finding treatment for their health problems.

Moreover, many workers suffered from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, and had difficulty managing their illnesses. In emergency situations, the workers faced few options.

The many barriers to access, including transportation, language differences, money and time made seeking treatment difficult. “Workers are here in the U.S. to make money to send back to their families in Mexico. When getting medical care is a difficult, time-intensive process, [the result is] they will often [not] seek care so that they don’t lose wages,” Gordon explained.

With her research now done, Gordon provided recommendations to the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program on how best to work with seafood processing workers. “Together with Greene County Health Care we are planning on interviewing existing clinics in the area, looking at the translation, transportation and payment options in order to assess how accessible they are to migrant workers,” said Gordon.

At Carolina, her research is being used for a manuscript in her advanced qualitative analysis class to address social networks and community support.

What Gordon hopes will emerge from her time as a fellow is more engaged research that impacts the way this Latino community navigates its way to better access to care and improved health.