I came down to Galapagos worried about what my level of support was going to look like while on the island. I knew the internet wasn’t great and that cell service was spotty, so I was expecting the worst. I wasn’t wrong about my lack of access to wifi but what I found was an awesome research team to support us through our project. I’ve decided in this blog to introduce you to some of our team members, and explain how integral their role was throughout our entire data collection process.
1. U.S. Based Research Team: Our U.S. based research team has been incredibly helpful in this project. First, Dr. Clare Barrington is the principal investigator and thus, knows how everything should work. She was able to visit Galapagos for 10 days while we were doing the study, and organized important meetings with directors, healthcare providers, and community members. Her ability and knowledge of exactly who and how we should work with individuals is spot-on, and I was able to learn so much from her. For example, we were given a hospital tour on one of our first days, where we were introduced to every single physician (there are over 15 working in the hospital and health center!), taken to every single part of the facility including labs and x-ray machines, and then we arrived to the health center. Clare immediately realized that three physicians we were introduced to would be key in our project and immediately stopped them to explain our project and set up a time to further discuss. Her ability to act and know at that moment who we needed to be in contact with was key to getting the study started. Similarly, Humberto Gonzalez Rodriguez, a project coordinator for Clare’s research team, and my preceptor, visited for 10 days. His skill set was incredibly valuable, as he assisted in motivating the team with daily starbursts, encouraging us during times of uncertainty, and directing with every qualitative research related question we had. The guidance of the U.S. based team was incredible and invaluable- and working so closely with Clare and Humberto taught me a great deal about qualitative field work.
2. Physician and Nursing Ecuadorian team: Because of a MOU between the Galapagos Science Center (a joint center between UNC and USFQ- an Ecuadorian University) we were able to directly recruit and work through the local hospital and ministry of public health. We came across an amazing team of passionate doctors, health promoters, and nurses that were focused on their patients and willing to help us at all costs. They made us a list of diabetic patients, walked with us door to door, and organized appointments for us. Their team gave us constant feedback about our project and how different things would be received within the community. They walked us through rural sites, returned to houses three and four times if patients weren’t home, all while patiently answering all questions we had about their work and the healthcare system. Without this amazing team of healthcare workers, this project would not have been possible! We even were able to celebrate the hard work by providing the team with a cake on our last day together. The engaging community collaboration for the project was an awesome example of community assisted research.
3. Our Research Assistant, Paulina: Paulina was suggested to us as a research assistant by a previous UNC project that worked with her last year- and what an incredible suggestion it was! Paulina was born in Machala, Ecuador, a coastal city of the mainland, but her father moved to Galapagos over 20 years ago. She lived on and off in the islands growing up, but ended up staying in Galapagos when she met her husband 15 years ago. Now, she is studying environmental administration, but works with health projects on the side. After having experience doing surveys in a previous position, we were excited to encourage Paulina to execute interviews and assist with transcribing for our project. Paulina picked it up quickly and was a great interviewer! She is a hard worker, passionate about Diabetes, and loves working with her community. Paulina helped our project from every single aspect and quickly became my closest friend on the island. We even got to travel to another island, Santa Cruz together! I’m incredibly grateful for Paulina and excited to be able to work with her on the analysis portion of this project.
4. Galapagos Science Center: It was amazing being able to work on a research project with an already existing research center. The GSC has infrastructure for projects like ours, and when it came time to meet with hospital directors and coordinators, the team at GSC was quick to assist and encourage us to make meetings with a variety of local leaders. The GSC team coordinated our offices and meetings, helped me learn how and where to print, helped us make coffee on long afternoons, and even coordinated dissemination events for us to be able to share our results with the community. Without the GSC team, our process of completing this project would have been incredibly difficult.
Through this summer research opportunity, I’ve learned the importance of key members working together in a team, and the cooperation of everyone to execute a successful project. While I have officially returned to the United States preparing to gear up for my last year of my MPH, I will continue to work on this research project and with Paulina and the community throughout the upcoming year to analyze the data we were able to collect. I learned a great deal from our research team, the community, and about life on an island while I was there, but I’m grateful to be back with my dog and family! Either way, the connections made in Galapagos are lasting and I’m grateful to have had the amazing opportunity to do research in such a unique setting with such a collaborative community.