Learning is an international experience on health science research trip

May 02, 2022

A group of students in Costa Rica on a bridge

Health science students experience a new level of immersive learning as they travel internationally to explore how exceptionally healthy populations thrive.

To prepare for a week-long research trip, students complete the Health Science 380: International Health Care - Field Research course. The class studies the health care structure, systems and delivery in a country outside the United States. The Fall ‘21 section studied Costa Rica for their January journey.

“During the fall semester, we met once a week for an hour. We learned about Costa Rican culture, completed Spanish lessons and learned how to assist the capstone student [Alexander Mass ‘20], who created the project we were going to do,” said Devin Naidoo ’21. “We practiced techniques to take blood pressure, and we learned how to work the gait analysis machines.”

More than a dozen students go on the research trips, which are held during January break and on alternating spring breaks.

“The underlying goal is to get students outside the classroom and push their boundaries. We give them an opportunity to spread their wings and be uncomfortable. A lot of health care is uncomfortable,” said Clinical Associate Professor of Health Science Studies Jason Scozzafava, who has led trips for the past four years. 

Program Director and Instructor of Fitness, Leisure, and Wellness Debora Lavigne traveled with the group as well.

“Most students don’t know the other students, and this offers the challenge of getting to know someone quickly. This is a great trait to develop, as healthcare providers must establish relationships with people they don’t know, on usually what is not the patient’s greatest day,” said Scozzofava.

Once in the remote village of Corozalito, students conducted health screenings, gathered research from water tests and set up training areas. The class also donated an AED unit, provided by non-profit In a Heartbeat.

“One of the village elders, who always welcomed our Quinnipiac team into his home, played music for us and spoke to the students about his culture, died of cardiac arrest last summer. The village was devastated, and I spoke with the village leaders at length, and they were interested in getting an AED in the village,” said Scozzofava.

A Costa Rican-based group then came to the village and certified four members in CPR and the use of the AED, he said.

The J-Term trip offers a unique opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in an unfamiliar landscape.

“My main goal was to understand the culture. Cultural competence, human interactions and other life experiences [are important] in healthcare,” said Mass. “Being able to establish connections with people who are unlike myself makes a difference.”

Mass found learnings from these excursions to be especially valuable during his time as Griffin Hospital’s lead test taker amid the COVID pandemic.

Yamna Siddiqui ’24 attended this January’s Costa Rican trip. In addition to participating in the group’s research, she led her own independent study. Siddiqui wanted to learn more about the community that made Costa Rica a blue zone, a geographic area known for human longevity.

“I saw that a lot of studies had been done on diet. There is not a lot of research on family communication and other socio-health aspects,” she said. “I wanted to learn about their values and foundations, to explore the dynamics of their society, and what is going on in their minds. Social health plays into physical health.”

Siddiqui conducted interviews with Costa Rican locals, often relying on Google Translate to carry conversation along. She plans to analyze her research and share how the main takeaways may be emulated by the Quinnipiac community.

“I learned about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. It helps you to learn how to embrace cultures and learn how to talk to people if you don’t speak the same language, which is a huge part of health care,” said Naidoo. “It helped me learn how to communicate.”

Mass and Naidoo will both continue their studies at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine.

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