For Cristi Cruz, the opportunity to spend the summer as a trainee at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity (CHE) has been one of the best experiences of her undergraduate career. Working under Nakiya Showell, MD, MHS, MPH, Cruz “had the opportunity to explore different areas of public health,” learn more about health equity research, and gain skills and knowledge to support her future career.
“You know how some people say that they have ‘a calling in life?’" says Cruz. "Well, I’m very passionate about improving the healthcare system for marginalized patients.”
Cruz, a senior neuroscience major at Claremont McKenna College, is no stranger to academic research, having worked on research projects on social behavior and neuroplasticity in cichlid fishes. She has spent her academic career pursuing a degree in neuroscience and has come to love the subject.
“I love learning about the nervous system, neurodegenerative disorders, and all of that…neuro is something that I can just spend [endless amounts] of time learning about,” Cruz said.
Her love for neuroscience is exceeded only by a passion for health equity. “You know how some people say that they have ‘a calling in life?’" says Cruz. "Well, I’m very passionate about improving the healthcare system for marginalized patients.”
Over the summer of 2023, Cruz explored her passion for health equity when she earned the opportunity to train with Dr. Showell as part of the CHE Trainee Program. While in the trainee program, Cruz gained hands-on experience working on two research projects: Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and A Family First Initiative in Realizing Medical-Social Equity (AFFIRME).
"The team made me feel so welcomed and free to dedicate myself to something I’m truly passionate about.”
Being on two projects allowed Cruz to experience various aspects of health equity research. For BUILD, she worked with two Johns Hopkins University undergraduates in creating a food resource guide and recipe videos for BUILD’s food box program recipients. She was also part of a team that developed a logic model to outline the short and long-term goals of the project and ways to measure how those goals were being accomplished. Cruz served an important role in making the project accessible to Spanish-speaking participants by assisting with the translation of surveys from English to Spanish.
For AFFIRME, Cruz created a guide to help patient families fill out applications to serve on Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFAC) at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She also helped promote PFAC recruitment by creating posters and business cards and by following up with applicants to confirm their interest.
Cruz says that she greatly enjoyed her work and felt that she gained valuable experience, skills, and knowledge. In addition, one of her greatest take-aways from her work was “how much of a difference it makes when you give community members and patients a voice in healthcare and research.” She also benefitted from the guidance, mentorship, and experience of CHE faculty and researchers and felt empowered and energized by the people around her. "The team made me feel so welcomed and free to dedicate myself to something I’m truly passionate about.”
“It was by far, the most rewarding experience I’ve had as an undergraduate and I was surrounded by immense support from my PI, mentors, and friends,” Cruz said. Cruz would highly recommend CHE’s Trainee program to anyone seeking to enter (or further) their career in health equity. She encourages potential applicates to “not be afraid to venture out and get out of your comfort zone because when you find something that you really love, which for me is increasing the representation of community voices in both research and healthcare, you’ll see how it all was worth it.”
The CHE Trainee Program, founded in 2010, provides opportunities to those seeking training in health equity research at all levels of experience…through formal didactics, mentorship, and sponsorship. To date, the program has trained over 500 exceptional people to conduct research, deliver care to populations that experience health disparities, and advocate for health equity.
If you are interested in applying to be a CHE Trainee, you can learn more on the Trainee Program page of the CHE website and complete the CHE Trainee Interest Survey to be considered for the program.