Reflecting on my practicum with Ipas Latin America and the Caribbean

This summer I had the opportunity to spend my practicum working with Ipas Latin America and Carribean, supporting abortion access in Northern Mexico. Though this was a completely virtual practicum it was still undoubtedly an international and cross-cultural experience. The team I worked on included members from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru. As I mentioned in my first update, the biggest challenge of my practicum was working in Spanish. This was my first professional experience that was completely in a second language. It was an immense challenge to communicate complicated analysis ideas and navigate team dynamics. This experience gave me a newfound depth of respect for those that primarily work in their second language and a greater understanding of the immense advantage that native English speakers have in a world where English is considered the primary language of business.

I spent the second half of my practicum analyzing the existing evidence and writing a report on the ways in which Ipas can support abortion access along the Mexico-US border. It was interesting learning about how the different political and social environment on the Mexican side of the border influenced the needs of those communities. My pre-existing expectation was that my report would focus on meeting the needs of American’s crossing the border to seek abortion access. However, I ended up pivoting the focus of my report to addressing the needs of migrants from Central and South America that have been waylaid at the border due to US policies such as “Remain in Mexico.” This experience was eye opening as to the way different policies compound to negatively impact vulnerable populations.

Overall my practicum was a very valuable experience. Though I didn’t love working remotely, it did provide me an opportunity to work on an international team that I might not otherwise have had. I decided to take an ArcGIS course this semester in the hopes of being able to build skills in resource mapping that may be of use to organizations like Ipas. Through what I learned in my practicum I hope to build skills and experiences through my second year of my MPH that will make me more valuable to organizations like Ipas working in the reproductive justice and abortion access space.

A scenic shot of the Jordan lake featuring a person paddleboarding in the distance.
Paddleboarding at Jordan lake.
A bowl of embroidery materials
In my free time I got into sashiko-inspired embroidery.


Challenging Myself in a Spanish Speaking Environment

I am completing my practicum with Ipas LAC. Ipas LAC addresses reproductive health and justice needs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The team I am working with is specifically addressing access needs along the US-Mexico border. Before pursuing a Global Health MPH at Gillings, I was a medical assistant and trainer in reproductive health clinics in San Diego. This practicum has allowed me to build on my previous experience addressing the reproductive health needs of border populations by utilizing the skills I gained in the first year of my MPH. My Ipas LAC teammates are primarily Spanish speaking, and this has been my greatest personal challenge through the practicum. Though I have worked with Spanish-speaking patients in the past, working and collaborating in Spanish almost exclusively has been a new challenge. The team I work with is international, hailing from Central and South America and Mexico. Working with such a diverse team has been a unique learning opportunity. I have applied many skills I learned throughout the previous school year, particularly communication skills and decentering my cultural perspective.

Some of the resulting artwork from a tie-dye party we had.

So far in my practicum, I have had the privilege of meeting with multiple teams of community leaders. Together we have strategized about feasible and appropriate resource allocation in the region to maximize patient safety and access.

My dog, Goose, cooling off mid-trail.

Outside these meetings, I have primarily been improving existing English language resource materials for clarity and accuracy. This has been a more sensitive project than I first anticipated because of the challenge of maintaining the voice of the original Spanish language materials through translation. I am also cognizant of the variety in educational attainment and English proficiency of potential utilizers of the resources. As the border is a culturally diverse region, I know that non-native English or Spanish speakers may still seek English language materials. I am careful to ensure that materials are accessible to non-native English speakers through clear visualizations and simple language. Ipas LAC places a particular emphasis on de-stigmatization and encouraging self-sufficiency in their materials. As someone who has previously worked in highly regulated clinical settings, the less institutionalized perspective that professionals outside of the United States bring to access efforts has expanded my understanding of possible avenues of intervention.

Goose and I recovering at the top of Occoneechee Mountain.

When not working on my practicum or my other research work, I am trying to get to know North Carolina better. Most evenings, I take my dog for a run or a bike ride, which he loves. Unfortunately for my car’s interior, his favorite thing to do in the heat is roll in whatever mud puddle he can find. I’ve also thrown a couple of bonfires and done some tie-dying with friends this summer.

– Maddy