Learning to adapt research in a remote capstone project

By Micaela Reyna, MS Candidate in Global Health Sciences

Preventative medicine has always been one of my passions because I see the power it has in changing health outcomes for minority populations. Preemptive screening saved my mother’s life. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer that was detected early with mammography screening. Many minority populations do not have the luxury of such preventative screening and must overcome language, financial, and cultural barriers to access quality healthcare.

The challenging experience of my mother’s illness reinforced for me the importance of providing health information to populations with limited access to medical care in a culturally sensitive manner. My passion for serving the Latinx community led me to work with Dr. Laura Fejerman, my capstone mentor, who developed a culturally-tailored hereditary breast cancer education program for Spanish-speaking Latinos. This program allows promotores, the Spanish term for community healthcare workers, to provide Latinx communities with information regarding hereditary breast cancer in a culturally appropriate manner. My capstone project aims to enhance the promotor-based education program by assessing improvement in the promotores’ understanding of hereditary breast cancer to maximize information dissemination among the Latinx community.

My capstone project has undergone several changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the ability of the promotores to have in-person community sessions, we have begun transitioning to an online platform. This is very challenging because social inequities limit our target population’s access to online platforms. Although we foresee struggles in recruiting community members as a result, we are confident that our passion for this project will allow us to overcome the obstacles.

Modifications to research projects will always occur, and I believe that my ability to navigate through the weekly changes to my capstone project will better prepare me for future research. I am very proud of my cohort and the way we have been able to overcome the uncertainty in our research projects. I believe that we will come out of this stronger and be able to handle any research misfortune we may experience in our future.

Although this is a very difficult time for many graduate students, we are all volunteering our free time to participate in UCSF’s COVID-19 response. Since April, I have been volunteering as part of the COVID-19 Research Watch to review scientific articles and provide short summaries for immediate dissemination of information to the public. This work led me to be a facilitator for the UCSF California Virtual Workforce Academy, a program designed to train case investigators and contact tracers in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a facilitator for the Interviewing Skills and Building Rapport course, I provided a welcoming environment for participants doing simulation interviews and practicing interview skills. It is very rewarding to be a part of the pandemic response.

Even though I am sad that we will not have an in-person graduation, I think we should remain positive and shine light on the honorable work that we are all doing. I will be excited for the day that I get to hug the other members of my cohort, but until then, we will continue supporting each other remotely, keeping each other accountable, and having weekly check-ins. We are still a resilient unit virtually, and will soon be crossing the finish line together to receive our Global Health Master’s degree.