Students Visit Spain to Study Health Disparities

Psychology professor Paul Perrin led a group of Virginia Commonwealth University students to Spain this summer to research how cultural differences within developing nations affect the way people provide and receive health care.

“The project (taught) students how to do research on racial and ethnic disparities in health and develop research for populations that are often marginalized within the health care system,” Perrin said.

Health disparities are the abundance of preventable diseases within a socially disadvantaged population. Many times, these disparities are a result of low income, poor education or cultural differences.

The traveling group of students — all from the College of Humanities and Sciences — met with other international researchers at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, to discuss methods to help people in impoverished nations, particularly Latin America, cope with mental conditions such as dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Professor Paul Perrin (far right) with students at St. Juan Church in Bermeo, Spain.

Professor Paul Perrin (far right) with students at St. Juan Church in Bermeo, Spain.

Compounding the difficulties that developing nations face is that current psychiatric tests were developed based on American and European cultures, said Stephen Trapp, a fifth-year doctoral student who accompanied Perrin. These tests prove to be ineffective when applied toward Latinos and their families, who see it as a cultural imperative to provide high-quality care even to the exclusion of their own needs, Perrin added.

During the trip, the international researchers studied how to empower family members to first take care of themselves in order to provide a better care for the person with the disability.

While the trip allowed the VCU students to become immersed in another culture – a critical experience in understanding health disparities – it also allowed for professional growth as they received experience in research, international collaboration and writing manuscripts. In fact, Trapp said, most students had at least one article published, and he himself continues to collaborate with colleagues he met from Portugal.

The trip was such a success that Perrin plans to make it an annual event.