Health Sciences and Nursing Students Put Their Skills to Work

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Eight-year-old Jasmine Castillo thought that building a house out of gumdrops with students from UTEP’s Master of Public Health Program would be fun, but she also learned a valuable lesson from them about how protecting the environment starts at home.

“I learned that you have to recycle so you don’t make pollution and you breathe in the bad stuff,” said Castillo, a student at Sambrano Elementary School in San Elizario, Texas.Antonio Espinosa, a clinical lab sciences student, performs a finger stick to check the glucose and cholesterol levels of one of the participants at the San Elizario Independent School District’s Health Fair on Nov. 3. Photo by Laura L. Acosta / UTEP News ServiceAntonio Espinosa, a clinical lab sciences student, performs a finger stick to check the glucose and cholesterol levels of one of the participants at the San Elizario Independent School District’s Health Fair on Nov. 3. Photo by Laura L. Acosta / UTEP News Service

Castillo, her mom, Blanca, and her older brother were among hundreds of San Elizario residents who attended last week’s San Elizario Independent School District Fall Health Fair. For the past five years, the school district has collaborated with different organizations, such as The University of Texas at El Paso, to provide residents with free health screenings, fitness and nutrition tips, and information on community services.

Students from the College of Health Sciences programs in public health, clinical laboratory sciences, pharmacy, physical therapy, rehabilitation sciences and social work, along with students from the School of Nursing and the Hispanic Health Disparities Research Center, spent Saturday morning doing health assessments and talking to parents and children about the importance of good health.

Children crowded around the Master of Public Health exhibit, where they built houses out of gumdrops and toothpicks. The sweet activity helped them learn about energy conservation and air contamination inside their homes.

“We’re trying to educate people how the air inside your house is a lot more polluted than the air outside your house because of the air conditioning,” said Isabela Gonzalez, who also suggested that people open their windows while they cook, so that toxins - such as fumes from burnt oil - don’t remain in the house. “People during the day don’t open their blinds so they’re usually just wasting energy unnecessarily, so we’re trying to tell them that opening the blinds is going to reduce your bills considerably.”

Jasmine’s mom, Blanca Castillo, stopped by the booth after she had her glucose and cholesterol levels and blood type checked by clinical laboratory sciences students.

Castillo had two reasons for attending the fair. Her son is a senior at San Elizario High School and she wanted him to check out to the different health sciences programs at UTEP. She also wanted to see if she was at risk for diabetes.

“I think (health fairs) are very helpful, especially because we’re so far away and there are a lot of people that don’t drive,” Castillo said, as she showed off the band aid that was wrapped around her finger after it was pricked for testing.

In the clinical lab science area, students set up makeshift labs that were equipped with glucose machines, centrifuges and agglutination viewers, which are used for blood type testing.

Veronica Fernandez, who expects to graduate from the CLS program in May, said that participating in last year’s health fair helped her prepare for her clinical rotations.   

“Right now I’m doing my rotations in the hospital,” she said.” So this helped me a lot in gaining the knowledge to do (these tests) at the hospital.”

Participants also had their vision and blood pressure checked by nursing students.

David Granados, an eight semester nursing student, said the health fair provides an invaluable service to the community.

“It’s good to have a resource like this in the community where they can come in and get their blood pressure, vision and cholesterol checked, and it’s also good because there are a lot of other clinics that are around here and a lot of other resources that are available to them that they didn’t know about,” Granados said.    

Physical therapy students Jose Mendoza and Marcus Reyes encouraged participants to walk 10,000 steps a day to reduce their risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The goal of the 10,000 Steps-A-Day Walking program is to get people to walk 10,000 steps or five miles in one day. Walkers record their progress using a pedometer.

While the activity may appear daunting to some, Mendoza said it’s very easy to accomplish because it’s something most people do every day.

“That sounds like a lot but it’s really not,” Mendoza said. “We’ve included easy tips to help people increase the number of steps that they take per day. When they go to the store, they can park further away and use their pedometer. They have to go back and forth inside the store, so already they’ve included maybe 100 steps.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to learn about medication safety from Doctor of Pharmacy students in the UTEP Cooperative Pharmacy Program.

Their exhibit included a colorful display of candy and medications. Children were asked if they could tell which one was a medication and which one was a Sweet Tart. Students also filled water bottles with juices and cleaners to see if children could tell the difference.

“When kids see something colorful they tend to grab it thinking it will be sweet,” said Michael Vasquez, a Pharm.D. student. “We’re here just to give them some basics; what is candy and what is a medicine and how they are similar.”

Cynthia Estrada found the information the students were passing out very helpful.

“They gave me information about how to dispose of unused medication in English and Spanish, which is good because I read English but I have family members who don’t. I was also asking questions about how to get rid of sharps. I have parents who are on insulin and I wanted to know what you do with the needles. I thought it was very informative.”

The exhibit also featured a booth where participants could ask two pharmacists questions about medications. Students also passed out information about smoking cessation.

Amanda Loya, Pharm.D., a pharmacy clinical assistant professor, said her students always are looking for opportunities to participate in the community.

“They’re looking for health fairs where they can do promotion on public health topics like medication safety. Last year was the first time we participated and they had a lot of fun, so we wanted to come back this year and expand some of the booths and activities that they’re offering,” Loya said. “They worked really hard and they tried to make sure they were really organized in how they put together the booth. They wanted to do things that were going to entertain kids but also teach them about safety.”