UNTHSC student doctors make rural communities healthier

September 9, 2013

 UNTHSC Rural Medicine Jose Cruz
Jose Cruz, MPH, and
Norma Cavazos-Salas, DO

Fourth-year medical student Jose Cruz, MPH, has devised a plan to reduce H. pylori bacterial infection, a stomach cancer risk factor, in his hometown near Mission in South Texas.

He said he’s fulfilling a personal calling to improve health in the predominantly Hispanic community where he grew up – and where he intends to practice medicine.

In so doing, he’s also meeting requirements integral to UNT Health Science Center’s Rural Osteopathic Medical Education (ROME) program, in which students create projects to fill health care gaps they identify in underserved communities.

“Looking at just one physician’s medical records, I found more than 100 patients who tested positive for H. pylori,” Cruz said. Some of the patients had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a peptic ulcer that if not treated could lead to stomach cancer.

Cruz is broadening his initial study to include hospitals’ electronic records, with the assistance of mentor/preceptor Norma Cavazos-Salas, DO, Rural Adjunct Faculty in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

His first screening of hundreds of patients eventually will expand to tens of thousands.

Excellence is Cruz’s goal. “The curriculum requires us to do a project, but I intend to go beyond that and publish my study,” he said.

He’s motivated by a passion to improve health for a large population. “Border communities like Mission are likely to have contaminated water if the source is the Rio Grande,” he said. His project will map H. pylori prevalence and “raise awareness so doctors will test for this more often.”

His work also could help guide public policy. “With a study like mine, we might work to influence elected officials’ decisions if better water sanitation is needed,” Cruz said.

Requirement of a rural medicine community health project became part of the ROME curriculum in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006.

Learn more: Office of Rural Medical Education

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