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Studying Infants in Panama

Last Updated on October 18, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 18, 2017

By Vicente Cobos

Senior Health Promotion and Psychology Double Major

I went to Panama City, Panama, for seven weeks during the summer of 2017 as part of a UTEP internship program, Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT). The goal of my research was to better understand the social determinants of health in Panama and their impact on infants in the areas of cognition, language and motor skills. It was amazing to be part of the research team. It reinforced my passion in health promotion to educate communities so that residents can reach their optimal health.

Initially, I felt lost in terms of my role with the research. At UTEP, I usually follow a syllabus to better understand what I am supposed to do. In Panama, my coworker and I had to decide what we wanted to do. In other words, we had to write our own syllabus. We came up with a research project that we titled “Correlations between the Cognitive, Language and Motor Development of One-Year-Olds and Social Determinants of Health in Panama.”

We read published articles, and studied and analyzed our population of interest. This allowed us to identify the group’s needs and risk factors. That information helped us analyze the statistics and create interventions with a greater chance for change. After we finished, we compared our findings to those in the journal articles they had read when we started the project.

On a personal level, I was amazed by Panama’s beauty and its areas of interest such as the Panama Canal, the nearby San Blas Islands, and the amazing amount of maritime trade. Skyscrapers gave an outstanding view of the country.

We visited an indigenous group named the Embera, and it was interesting to see how they used their resources to accommodate their lifestyle. This experience made me more grateful for what I have. I also was blessed with a wonderful host family. The James Martinez family rekindled my faith in human kindness. They, and others involved in the program, showed a lot of humility and consideration.

This experience has made me more confident in my ability to tackle life’s obstacles. I am better prepared mentally to consider someone else’s perspective. I want to be a bridge that connects people with institutions, and promotes healthy lifestyles. I am grateful to UTEP, the National Institutes of Health and the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud in Panama for this amazing opportunity.