Written by Jesus Hernandez (Ponce Health Sciences University).
Through the years of our lives we are acquiring new ways of living and new experiences that help us strengthen ourselves as human beings with a clear vision of what the next step will be in order to enlarge our purpose on Earth.
Exactly, with this type of thinking I was creating my path by having experienced when I was 18 years old, the death of a sister from an event of domestic violence. I clearly remember how I woke up every day, not knowing what the plan would be to continue when I hardly had the energy.
Career guidance and assistance was extremely limited in Puerto Rico at that time and the little information available made me think that I only had one option within the field of science. I had already experienced the field of biomedical sciences, but I was not passionate about what I was doing. At an internship of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, I was supposed to conduct biomedical research. There was a logistics problem to assign me a mentor and I ended up working in clinical trials analyzing data. It was there I learned about public health.
I received a lot of criticism from colleagues when I decided that I was going to do my master's degree in public health. They thought that changing biomedical sciences to public health was a decision I would regret. However, I can say that it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Being able to contemplate how only through the power of words and simple actions, I can change lives and contribute to the well-being of people is extremely gratifying.
Making personal political: The power of public health research
Before completing my doctorate in epidemiology, I thought I could not reach the final goal if I did not meet the challenge of working on domestic violence. Taking into account the tragic situation of my sister, I decided that my doctoral thesis had to be in social epidemiology of domestic violence in Puerto Rico, specifically trying to explain the epidemiology of fatalities.
The process of being able to create a proposal that had scientific relevance had its ups and downs and involving the Police of Puerto Rico in the investigation took time. Although, at some point the glass could be seen half empty, instead of half full, the task was achieved and for the first time an epidemiological case-control study could be carried out that investigated variables within the context of an ecological model. There was an investigation by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell that gave life and meaning to the entire project methodology.
It is true that the scientific project helped me complete my doctorate, but with the conclusion of it I achieved more than that. Apart from honoring my sister's memory, we can now talk about risk factors that can predict fatalities of domestic violence specifically for women in heterosexual relationships on the island. Although the results had their limitations because they could not be generalized, they opened the way to continue the discussion and improvements that need to be reviewed as part of the infrastructure within the operation of the government of Puerto Rico.
Attending SVR Forum and meeting my research guru
My personal exposure to violence and my professional training has led me to apply for a bursary to attend SVRI Forum 2019. Being awarded a Forum bursary was such a positive affirmation of my life choices – my initial choice to move away from biomedical science to something positive and meaningful and provide me with an opportunity to both share my experiences, and create a network of professionals who were interested in the social problem that makes my practice as a health professional more meaningful.
Attending SVRI Forum also enabled me to fulfill a wish I never imagined possible - meeting Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell in person.
After having presented my research, I understood that on many occasions we are not sure of our purpose. That sometimes only time can unravel why events occur, that what we first perceive as possibly the end of the world, but rather is life providing a pathway to a passionate and meaningful career.
Follow Jesus on Instagram @jesushburgos