WMU News

Institute emphasizes migrant farm worker's health

July 21, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Future health care professionals from Western Michigan University are gaining some real-life experience this summer addressing the health care needs of migrant farm workers in rural Southwestern Michigan.

WMU's Summer Institute on Migrant Farmworker Health is a compressed version of WMU's Rural Health Education program, which encourages students to complete field placements in rural settings and pursue careers in rural communities. The program allows students to gain hands-on knowledge in health care fields, while earning credit. This is the first year an institute giving special attention to the needs of the migrant population has been held.

Students from a variety of health care majors are gaining clinical experience at migrant Head Start centers, community health clinics and immunization clinics in Berrien and Van Buren counties.

Physician assistant students treat patients, while health education and nursing students observe medical exams. Music therapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology students assess and provide therapy for children in the Head Start centers. An interdisciplinary team approach allows students to complement each other's goals and conduct co-therapy sessions.

Students also "shadow" professionals in health care delivery by accompanying outreach nurses to migrant camps, observing dental van services at community sites and helping train migrant camp residents to serve as lay health workers.

"Working side by side with health professionals will help students begin to understand the challenges and complexities of service delivery to a transitory population whose culture is distinct from mainstream U.S. culture," says Christina S. Sonneville, project coordinator in the Rural Health Education program.

All participants attend a rural health seminar, where they are encouraged to discuss migrant farm worker health issues through consideration of community empowerment, cultural sensitivity, interdisciplinary teambuilding and rural health issues.

"Students are challenged to consider the opportunities for interdisciplinary service delivery in their discipline, as well as their responsibility to culturally appropriate service," Sonneville says. "The history and realities of migrant farm worker life in the U.S. also are explored."

The institute wraps up August 14.

Media contact: Jill Dobson, 616 387-8400, 98dobson@wmich.edu

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