Getting Down to Business

Now it was time for the hard part to begin which ultimately taught me lesson number three: Designing a survey is no joke!. I had no idea so much thought and effort went into creating a survey. From the moment we arrived at the community clinic, I wanted to know what was on these individual’s minds. The halls were packed with people, children ran around, mothers stood in long lines. It was a crazy sight to see. We just so happened to touch down in Panama during the middle of a huge influenza outbreak so the clinic was lined up with individuals desperate to get a flu shot to prevent themselves and their loved ones from getting sick. You could literally see the irritation and discomfort on so many people’s faces. This intimidated me. I felt as if no one was going to want to deal with us asking questions in this hot building as they waited for a flu vaccination. But I was wrong.

The line for the influenza vaccination was out of the gate and down the street!

After going over the tedious task of developing what questions to pretest in our survey, and getting a lot of help translating them into Spanish, it was time to talk to the people. Now my Spanish is horrendous, so this definitely caused some jitters in the pit of my stomach, but I had to get out there and try. I just knew we would get so many declines to our survey. Not only did I feel like people would not want to be bothered, but we were talking about two touchy subjects; Tobacco and Alcohol. Who wants to let us know how many cigarettes they smoke a day or how many drinks they consume at a time. But they did. So many patients opened up and were honest about their lifestyle and what role tobacco and alcohol played in it. Patients enjoyed feeling as if their voice mattered. It brought me to think about another thing I’ve learned in my MPH courses, by asking these individuals about their opinion on their health and what can be done to improve their environment, its like we empowered them in a sense. They felt as if they were important and could make a difference and to see the excitement in their faces as they told their story, is something I will always remember.

After all of the pretesting and testing, we had all of the data we needed for our project. As we went through survey after survey we found one common thing, all participants knew that alcohol consumption was a serious problem and wanted help. It was shocking to find so many answers that correlated the high rates of drinking to family and financial problems. So many individuals wanted to learn more about the health effects of binge drinking. So many individuals wanted help within their own community. So many individuals didn’t even know help existed. So this is where lesson number four kicked in. Try to give the people what they want.

Now this is always easier said than done, but Lucia and I tried to make it happen. In our surveys we asked what type of information they wanted regarding alcohol consumption and how they would like it delivered. Based off of those answers we got to work. What I think was most important for me was actually leaving something behind that could be useful. Now I know we are just a couple of graduate students from USC who only had two weeks here in their country, but leaving a little bit of something that is useful was better than nothing. When we interviewed staff at the clinic, we found out that there were no alcohol programs that people could seek for help. They didn’t even have one brochure that could inform people of the effects of alcohol use.

So on Friday June 17th, as we presented to our classmates, Dr. Steinberg, and representatives from the University of Southern Florida we are able to provide a little bit of something. We provided data on alcohol and tobacco consumption, shed light on the connection between violence and alcohol use, and discussed the expressed needs of the community. My proudest moment on this trip was being able to present our little gift back to this community. Lucia and I created four posters for the community clinic that could be used to display the effects of alcohol on the body and the family. We also learned the community wanted this knowledge to be spread to the younger generation so we developed activities for the community to engage in with their adolescent volunteers. I thought the little bit I was contributing back to the community was just that, a little bit. But the smiles from everyone in the room let me know that this was something that could be greatly used in this community.

One of the actual flyers we created for use inside of the clinic.

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