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Stempel doctoral student earns NIH fellowship to study impact of trauma, stress on alcohol use of recent Latinx immigrants

For the past eight years Vicky Vazquez has been working with the immigrant community in Florida, helping organize outreach events and learning about their needs. 

It’s a labor of love and particularly personal for the doctoral candidate, who is studying health promotion and disease prevention in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. “As a child of an immigrant parent, I witnessed firsthand the stressful challenges associated with the process of immigrating to the U.S.,” says Vazquez, whose parents are Colombian-Panamanian and Puerto Rican.

“I also learned the value of community and the value of having people who support me and seek to understand me better,” she adds. “The only way to address social issues is by getting to know people one-on-one and serving them. Now I have the opportunity to give back and elevate the needs of this population.”

Through her research, Vazquez seeks to shed light on the struggles that immigrants experience and to advocate for programs that address the needs of these families. “It stems from my aspiration to contribute to strategies that eliminate health disparities.”

Her passion has netted her a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service award fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The fellowship’s goal is to promote diversity in health-related research and support underrepresented students.

Through the fellowship, Vazquez will work on a research project while receiving guidance, training and mentorship from her faculty sponsors, who include Mario De La Rosa, director of FIU’s Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse (CRUSADA), and Hortensia Amaro, distinguished professor at FIU.

Vazquez is analyzing “the interaction of the societal and social conditions that impact the total burden of disease among recent Latinx immigrants in South Florida.” She is looking at the impact on alcohol use and depressive symptoms in young adults and also considering the role that gender plays on these associations.

Previous research, Vazquez explains, has uncovered that some recent Latinx immigrants go through traumatic and stressful experiences in their home countries due to political and economic upheaval and violence. Once in the U.S., these experiences are further complicated by financial instability, loss of social support, lack of access to health care and fears related to their immigration status.

Vazquez is a research fellow at the FIU-Health Disparities Initiative within CRUSADA. After graduation, she plans to continue conducting meaningful research that can be translated into community programs and public policy.