NIH Funds International Research Training Program at UTEP

The Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program at The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded $1.34 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to continue its training of students in health disparities research. The funding will support the project Hispanic Health Disparities Across Cultures in Latin America: Collaborative Research for the 21st Century.

“The MHIRT program transforms the lives of our UTEP student participants,” said Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Sciences and program director. “They see lifetime career opportunities that they were previously not aware of in researching Hispanic health disparities and learn so much about themselves while immersed in another Hispanic culture.”

Program graduates have gone on to pursue opportunities in graduate professional education in the health sciences as well as doctoral level graduate education in the biomedical science fields. Program alumni are currently employed in governmental agencies, health and social services sectors, and as nurses, social workers, physicians, medical laboratory professionals, research scientists and science teachers.

Housed in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences, the MHIRT program offers short-term international health disparities research opportunities for Hispanic undergraduate and graduate students. For 12 weeks during the summer, participants engage in a Summer Research Institute, which includes six weeks of intensive coursework at UTEP and culminates in a six-week mentored international research experience aimed at eliminating Hispanic health disparities. They also participate in in-country cultural immersion activities that are focused on economic development, tourism, history and the arts.

Since 2005, a total of 88 students have traveled to research settings in Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador. In summer 2013, two additional sites in Panama City, Panama were added to the program’s international partnerships, enabling three additional students to participate in tropical medicine research. Program participants engage in a variety of research projects that involve waterborne diseases, cancer prevention, aging, nutrition, tropical diseases and other pressing public health issues in collaboration with faculty and students at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose, the Universidad Central del Ecuador in Quito, the Universidad Autonoma de los Andes in Ambato, Ecuador and the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud and the Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología in Panama City.

Viridiana Sigala, a social work major, was one of six students who traveled to Costa Rica in 2013 to investigate health issues that affect the elderly.

“I enjoyed all the cultural activities, but overall being able to go and conduct research and talk to the people who live there was really eye opening.” Sigala said. ”I hope I get the chance to go back someday.”

UTEP is the only one of 18 participating universities that offers a six-week course, which includes a pre-immersion experience, to help students become acquainted with their host countries and ease their transition into a new culture.

MHIRT participants receive housing, transportation, a stipend and 10 credit hours. To be considered for the program, applicants must be juniors, seniors or graduate students, have a minimum 3.25 G.P.A. and have declared a major in a pre-professional science, or a health or behavioral science discipline.