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  • Carving My Own Path: From First-Generation Latina Undergraduate Student to Minority Health Researcher

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    By Saida Coreas, B.S.
    Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
    Division of Intramural Research, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

    Hoping to build a stable life away from civil war, my parents immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Growing up, I experienced firsthand the barriers to health care access and utilization within my household and in my community. My mother and father suffered from heart disease and cancer, respectively. Like many immigrant families, my siblings and I often served as translators and health advocates when it came to doctor visits or medication use/instructions. As a child, I would have never imagined how these cumulative actions would lead to my pursuit in understanding the need to reduce and encourage the elimination of health disparities in my adult life. Today, I am a part of that driving force to make a positive change for my family, my community, and generations after me.

    About a year and a half ago, I packed my bags and moved across the country from Los Angeles to begin my post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (Postbac IRTA) fellowship in Bethesda, Maryland. The NIH Postbac IRTA fellowship is a 1-to 2-year research opportunity for recent college graduates interested in applying to graduate or professional health school (e.g., medicine, dental, nursing, veterinary sciences).

    I came into my fellowship with a desire to build upon my learned experiences, understand different aspects of research, and represent my community effectively. Having the privilege to be a part of Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Population Lab at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has allowed me to do just that and so much more. For example, I had the opportunity to be a lead collaborator in the development of a survey questionnaire for wave 3 of an NHLBI/NIMHD funded four-site Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (a longitudinal cohort study of Hispanics/Latinos that began in 2008). To further support my growth, I have also had the opportunity to present our work at conferences, network with other NIH researchers, attend various workshops, enroll in graduate level classes, and work as lead and a co-author on peer-reviewed manuscripts.

    As a first-generation Latina university graduate, it is important for me to work in the field of research and find a sense of community, especially in a prestigious agency such as the NIH. Seeing a friendly face who shares a similar background can create a sense of belonging and can make a world of a difference. As someone who is beginning to take steps toward a career in social and behavioral health, it reassures me that my goals are truly attainable. I am fortunate enough to be part of a diverse fellowship program and communities of support where other fellows share, understand, and empathize with my experiences and challenges, such as feeling prone to imposter syndrome.

    My fellowship has challenged me in many ways and molded me into a better researcher and critical thinker. I have grown so much professionally and personally. I am both humbled and grateful to have found great mentors and to be working in a supportive environment that has enabled me to succeed in my fellowship while preparing for my next step—graduate school and beyond. If there is one thing I learned from my training and mentors that might inspire other immigrant ethnic minority students who often feel inadequate, it is to take a risk! You have something to bring to the table. There are people out there who want to help navigate your path and amplify your voice.