FRONTERA and Border Health Scholar Programs Promote Public Health Disparities Research Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Summer internships offered by the UA College of Medicine Office of Outreach and Multicultural Affairs
This summer, seven students gained first-hand experiences in health services research along the U.S.-Mexico border thanks to the innovative border health education experiences, FRONTERA and the Border Health Scholar Program, offered by the Office of Outreach and Multicultural Affairs at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson.
The nine-week summer internship programs provide participants with an increased understanding of health disparities along the U.S.-Mexico border region through hands-on research training community-based border experiences, one-on-one mentoring and reflection. Each program participant is matched to a faculty mentor with similar interests in a specific aspect of border health research.
FRONTERA and Border Health Scholar participants visited the Pascua Yaqui Community Service Center in Tucson, including, from left to right, Charles Muñoz (Border Health Scholar), John Paul Jarczyk (FRONTERA), Nikolas “Niko” Enrique Ramos (Border Health Scholar), Audrey De Alva (Border Health Scholar), Esther Quintero (Border Health Scholar) and Irene Valdés-Wochinger (FRONTERA). (Photo by Alejandra Zapien, MD)

“Programs like FRONTERA and Border Health Scholars serve to increase the pool of under-represented researchers interested in examining health disparities along the border region,” says Ana María López, MD, MPH, FACP, associate dean for outreach and multicultural affairs and director of the Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine.

“This experience exemplifies the University’s ongoing commitment to partner with border communities and improve the health of their residents.”

The FRONTERA program, initiated in 2007, is coordinated by the Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence ( and the Office of Outreach and Multicultural Affairs ( The programis funded by the Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools.
The Border Health Scholar Program was initiated in 2010 and is funded by the Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence and private donors.
In addition to their research project commitments, FRONTERA participants and Border Health Scholars attended activities to enhance their understanding of the problems affecting the border region and to become familiar with key agencies, programs and stakeholders working to improve the well-being of the diverse populations living in the U.S.-Mexico border region. This summer’s education program activities included attending Arizona Telemedicine Program training; participating in the Regional Center for Border Health’s community Health Fair in San Luis, Ariz.; and touring clinics and hospitals in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, in order to gain an understanding of medical services on both sides of the border.
For information about applying for next summer’s FRONTERA and Border Health Scholar programs, visit the UA College of Medicine Office of Outreach and Multicultural Affairs website,
2011 FRONTERA Program
Two students participated in the 2011 FRONTERA program, which was held May 30 through Aug. 5:
Irene Valdés-Wochinger is a doctoral student and a Carson Carr Diversity Fellow at the School of Public Health and the Department of Anthropology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Guided by her mentor, Celia P. Valenzuela, MD, UA assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Irene studied the demographic characteristics of women treated urgently at University Medical Center (UMC) with blood transfusions for severe anemia secondary to uterine bleeding and compared them to women treated non-urgently for the same conditions at the Women’s Health and Resource Center at UMC. The purpose of the study is to identify health-care disparities between the two groups of women and to determine whether women who seek emergency care are of a lower socioeconomic status. Data from this work will serve as pilot data for a grant application to support the care of women who otherwise would not be able to afford care. It is hypothesized that non-urgent care would improve care for these women.
John Paul Jarczyk graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in math and Spanish and currently is a student at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. As an undergraduate, John studied in Santiago, Chile. After graduating, he accepted a position as a Jesuit Volunteer in Tacna, Peru. Guided by his mentor, Horacio L. Rilo, MD, UA professor of surgery, John gathered and analyzed data measuring the overall costs of performing autologous islet cell transplants (using a patient’s own cells) at the same time as a pancreatectomy (surgical removal of the pancreas) to treat chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), compared to the overall costs of performing only a pancreatectomy. The research will be used to advocate for a change in Medicare policy to cover autologous islet cell transplants in Arizona and the United States.
2011 Border Health Scholar Program
Five students participated in the 2011 Border Health Scholar Program, which was held May 30 through Aug. 5:
Audrey De Alva, a neuroscience and cognitive psychology major at the UA and a Hispanic Alumni Scholar, was guided by her mentor, Ana María López, MD, MPH, FACP, UA professor of medicine and pathology and associate dean for outreach and multicultural affairs. Audrey worked with Dr. López and Angela Valencia, MPH, senior research specialist with the Arizona Cancer Center at the UA College of Medicine, to educate promotoras (community health workers) in the use of state-of-the-art health technologies to enhance their impact on their communities (Southern Arizona Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation:  Arizona Telemedicine Program)
Charles Muñoz, a senior at the UA majoring in physiology, is actively involved with Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), a professional health fraternity that promotes awareness of the health professions by exposing students to many health career paths. His mentor was Sydney Rice, MD, UA associate professor of pediatrics. Charles assisted Dr. Rice in a literature search for her project on spina bifida, shadowed her during clinic visits at UMC and worked with her at Square & Compass Children’s Clinic, which specializes in care for children with spina bifida. He learned how these children are counseled and how care is provided for these patients from an early age to adulthood.
Danielle Muñoz, a junior at the UA majoring in nutritional sciences, has an interest in cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Danielle’s mentor, Michelle Bratton, RD, COS, clinical nutritionist at the Arizona Cancer Center’s Peter and Paula Fasseas Clinic at UMC North, guided her to disseminate information about a healthy diet to Latina breast cancer survivors by encouraging women to bring in favorite recipes that could then be modified to be healthier. The women’s recipes are showcased in a cookbook, “Cooking for Prevention: Healthy Latino Recipes.
Esther Quintero, a third-year student at the UA majoring in physiology, has as her goal to attend medical school and become a pediatrician. Guided by her mentor, Capt. Lisa L. Tonrey, director of the Indian Health Service in Sells, Ariz., Esther worked at the facility in Sells, conducting a needs assessment of telemedicine services for clinicians and educators in the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Nikolas “Niko” Enrique Ramos, a psychology and chemistry junior at the UA, has as his goal to work in the fields of psychology and medicine with young people. Guided by his mentor, Karen Weihs, MD, UA associate professor of psychiatry, Niko worked on data analysis of recorded interviews with breast cancer patients, using a standardized test (Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale, or LEAS) to analyze patients’ emotional awareness and interpersonal responses.