Alumna keeping dairy workers safe through health literacy

Anabel Rodriguez, MPH
Anabel Rodriguez, MPH

Degree program/work experience: I earned a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology from UTHealth School of Public Health in San Antonio in 2016 and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in epidemiology in 2019. I joined the campus staff in 2014 as a graduate research assistant. Currently, I am a research coordinator working on improving occupational health and safety among dairy workers and logging machine operators.

Recent honors and accomplishments: Recipient of 2019 Individual Health Literacy Hero award from the Bexar County Health Collaborative and the 2019 Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science Community Engagement Hero Award–Outstanding Student.

What do you do at UTHealth School of Public Health? I work with workplace injury prevention researcher David Douphrate, PhD, an associate professor with the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, to improve health literacy in vulnerable dairy workers in rural areas of the United States. I’ve continued to work on his projects and have submitted my own pilot grants as part of my training. I’m beyond excited to put some of my ideas on paper and start diversifying funding and project opportunities.

Health literacy is: having the self-efficacy to make informed decisions about your health. Our research population consists of vulnerable dairy workers in rural areas of the United States. To us, it’s vital all workers know and understand the importance of health and safety as it applies to their occupation because it can be the difference between life and death.

I knew I wanted to go into public health: when I realized how broad it is. Everything is public health. That’s the beauty of it.

Why UTHealth School of Public Health in San Antonio is good place to learn/work: Being exposed to research and field data collection on dairy farms with Dr. Douphrate the first month I got to UTHealth School of Public Health in San Antonio sold me on the idea of research. I realized how much I enjoyed being in the field and working with the dairy workers. I grew up in a migrant family and spent my summers picking fruits and vegetables in California, so I feel a special connection to the people who work on dairy farms. I have spent the last few years on the road, helping administer mobile safety training to dairy workers across the nation. Our research team has trained more than 1,400 workers in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and New York.  We have been able to put research into practice, which makes for a great working environment.

What’s next? I’m hoping to apply for a National Institutes of Health R21 or R01 grant in the next couple of years focused on tuberculosis among dairy workers and mental health among migrant farmworker families in the United States. I also hope to venture into teaching epidemiology courses.

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