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Graduate Students Collaborate on Occupational Health Issues Affecting Migrant Tomato Workers

Migrant tomato workers in the field

Rachel Kelley, a student earning an MD and a master of science from the University of California San Francisco/Berkeley Joint Medical Program, is working with East Tennessee State University and Rural Medical Services this summer on migrant worker issues.  Rural Medical Services, Inc., is a Community and Migrant Health Center with five primary care sites in East Tennessee. 

Ms. Kelley is enthusiastic about supporting ongoing community-based research projects. Like her peers at ETSU, she is motivated by service and learning. "I have had opportunities to learn about farmworker health in California, so I'm thankful for this chance to learn more about farmworkers' health in a different part of the country," Kelley explained. "I hope I can be an asset to ETSU's and RMS's efforts." Ms. Kelley is teamed up with ETSU’s Lindsey Crosnoe-Shipley who is similarly earning combined MD-MPH degrees. They are helping RMS with this summer’s health screening clinics on tomato farms.  To get started, they’ve been analyzing several previous years' health screening data, paying particular attention to musculoskeletal and cardiovascular concerns. This work will further ongoing ETSU students' efforts to assess ergonomic hazards in the fields and packing houses. ETSU faculty from Public Health, Nursing and Family Medicine are helping to fill in Rachel’s calendar.  “Unlike the Midwest, Tennessee and California use labor-intensive methods to harvest tomatoes,” said Ken Silver, Associate Professor of Environmental Health.  “We’d be delighted if more of students acted as emissaries between Tennessee’s tiny community of occupational health researchers and some of the world leaders who are out in California,” he said, “to speed the implementation of safer methods.” 

Since 2008, Dr. Silver has collaborated with Rural Medical Services as well as faculty and students in other health disciplines at ETSU, on occupational health issues affecting migrant tomato workers. Pilot epidemiologic, survey research and qualitative studies have resulted from this work, including investigations of heat stress, ergonomics, and pesticides.  Since its inception, this project has been a close collaboration with faculty and students in ETSU's colleges of medicine and nursing, with ongoing involvement of the Migrant Clinicians Network, which provides leadership on health justice for the mobile poor and underserved.

 

 

“Unlike the Midwest, Tennessee and California use labor-intensive methods to harvest tomatoes. We’d be delighted if more of students acted as emissaries between Tennessee’s tiny community of occupational health researchers and some of the world leaders who are out in California to speed the implementation of safer methods.”

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