The Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (SPHTM), in collaboration with Xavier University of Louisiana, established a MHIRT Training Program in New Orleans in 2005. Seven overseas sites provide training in several research areas relevant to health disparities populations in the U.S. The program provides international research training opportunities for qualified undergraduate, graduate and health professions students from health disparities populations who are underrepresented in basic science, biomedical, clinical or behavioral health research career fields. The Tulane/Xavier collaboration builds on the strengths and traditions of both institutions, i.e., the investigative capacity of the Tulane SPHTM as a leader in international public health and tropical disease research, and the tradition of Xavier University as a leader in advanced scientific education for minority students from health disparities groups. Each year, program directors and research mentors from both universities select 10 students from both universities, including 7 undergraduates and 3 graduate or medical students, to participate in overseas research experiences. The overseas sites are linked to ongoing collaborative research projects led by participating Tulane faculty mentors. Research opportunities include studies of pediatric tuberculosis in Peru, interventions to reduce maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality in Argentina, Chagas disease in Mexico, clinical trials of new antimalarial drugs in Mali, Lassa Fever and tropical diseases in Sierra Leone, cardiovascular diseases in China, and health behaviors of migrants in Thailand. Participants receive intensive training in research methodology, ethics, and biosafety prior to travel, and the project provides pretravel medical services and basic language training. Trainees work under the joint tutelage of U.S. and foreign faculty mentors, and their research findings are organized for oral and written presentation on return to the U.S. Students are encouraged to explore similarities and differences between the disease impact on the overseas population, and its impact on health disparities populations in the U.S. Our hope is that this opportunity will stimulate students to see health disparity issues in the U.S. in a broader perspective as global problems and be able to apply lessons learned from one group to the other. In spite of significant obstacles in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, we have completed 2 successful years of the program and are now training a third cohort, with many early trainees going into biomedical professional training (and one is continuing her MHIRT research in Argentina as a Fulbright scholar).
The Tulane-Xavier MHIRT program provides a unique opportunity for students from underserved health disparities populations to participate in a fully funded international research experience that may redirect their professional carriers toward international research and service and thus is highly relevant to public health.
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