First Nursing Student Participates in UA Latin American Summer Research Program

Melissa Ruiz, a student from the Universidad de Sonora mentored by Assistant Professor Sheila Gephart, helped develop Spanish education materials for parents of premature babies.

This summer, Melissa Ruiz, a recent graduate of the Universidad de Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico, became the first nursing student to participate in the University of Arizona Latin American Summer Research Program.

Ruiz was one of 50 undergraduate students from Brazil, Mexico and Honduras selected for the 10-week program for juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a graduate degree in the United States.

Ruiz, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, was mentored by Dr. Sheila Gephart, assistant professor at the UA College of Nursing. For her research project, Ruiz helped develop and translate into Spanish educational pamphlets to teach parents with vulnerable pre-term babies about necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), one of the leading causes of death for premature babies. The pamphlets are part of Dr. Gephart’s nationally-funded NEC-Zero intervention project to reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis to zero through prevention and early recognition practices.

“Working with Dr. Gephart was very rewarding for me because I learned a lot about how a big project like this works,” said Ruiz. “By giving the information in Spanish, she can help more Hispanic patients and parents, which I think is very important.”

In addition to her research project, Ruiz shadowed UA nursing students during a clinical rotation at a local hospital and helped students practice working with Hispanic patients by speaking to them in Spanish, and met with UA College of Nursing faculty members working with U.S.-Mexico border populations.

After finishing her summer program, Ruiz returned home to complete her required year of community service as a nurse, and says she is interested in pursuing graduate studies and nursing research in the future.

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