Successful grant proposal (University of Arizona Honors College)
Richard Alan Russell
Dear Board Members,
My proposed research will be conducted in Oaxaca, Mexico under the supervision of Dr.
Downing, an internationally recognized social-development researcher at the University
of Arizona. Through an on campus federal work-study program, I have worked with Dr.
Downing for the last three years on different issues including development forced
displacement and resettlement and its impacts on project affected people. While working
with Dr. Downing on these projects concerning either underprivileged or inadequately
represented persons, I began to discover the uniqueness, vastness and diverse wealth of
knowledge of native cultures, often razed in pursuit of development. This discovery
combined with my future goal of becoming a medical practitioner both led to my current
interest in traditional and westernized medicine in Oaxaca. With the granted financial
support, given the limited time and my limited resources, my intention is to focus on the
current allopathic doctor and citizen understanding of their unique pluralistic healthcare
Cheleen Mahar Higgins finds a high degree of similarity in her research to explain
“illness definitions and diagnosis with regards to the Folk and Western medical
My research intends to provide an updated account that is similar to this, but
instead of looking at illness definitions and diagnosis, stratum variables will be the focus.
The two variables of both wealth and education will be isolated, to see if they relate or
affect an individual’s definition of traditional or westernized medicine. To do this, I will
analyze and record the degree to which Oaxacan people of different socio-economic
status rate and value these treatment types. It will also be important to inquire into why
the value and rating differences exist or do not exist.
Currently, my ability to achieve these goals and answer these questions needs to be
further refined, and upon arrival I will intently observe the people while also acclimating
to the foregin environment (as instructed to so by Dr. Downing) because in order to
properly address these questions a refined understanding of the culture and ethnoscience
of Oaxaca needs to be garnered in a natural, unobtrusive fashion. In support of this
notion, Peter Giovannini and Michael Heinrich state that “an approach that goes beyond
the externally imposed dichotomic categories [of one’s customs]…can be very useful to
shed light on other dimensions that underlie the use of medicines.”2
My aptitude will
hopefully expand; however my overarching research aims will remain constant.
My holistic research aims are threefold. First and foremost, this investigation seeks to
report from the definitions, terms, stories, ideas and perspective of the individuals
directly living and interacting within this pluralistic system. Second, to capture a single
cultural-temporal reference frame, depicting the essence of how the individual persons of
Oaxaca—specifically the citizens living in or near the capital city Oaxaca de Juárez—
place value on and actually utilize their unique healthcare treatment options. Third,
attempt to elucidate basic underlying trends within the sample population regarding
stratum, which individuals might not be unaware of.
These questions and research aims will be addressed while investigating in Oaxaca.
However, it’s also important to outline procedures for relevant data collection and
interpretation from the field.
The proposed methodology involves mostly qualitative fieldwork. According to Paul
Leedy’s Practical Research, Planning and Design3
and consensus among additional
resources, the nature of the research topic determines what scientific approach will be
most effective, and large cultural components encompassed by my topic, dictate
qualitative analysis. Straightforward description will dominate the first half of my
investigation because when first introduced into the new culture, many social and cultural
norms will conspicuously seem strange, and I’ll experience a temporary heightening of
awareness (described by Dr. Downing), which can best be recorded in detailed, accurate
description. Another portion of my first month methodology, improving my Spanish
communication abilities and my other socializing tools, like body language interpretation,
while also studying 30 hours per week at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca (ICO) in a
specialized program that involves interaction with healthcare professionals to improve
medical terminology and overall fluency. This means, improvement upon literal Spanish,
upon regionally specific aspects of Oaxacan Spanish usage and upon subtler components
of communication formulate the first step of the methodology because one of my major
research aims is to report from the Oaxacan people’s terms.
The second half of my stay will be devoted to the qualitative research techniques known
as: free listing, structured interviewing, questionnaires and surveying. Free listing is a
great method to define the lexicon domain germane to a specific topic in a specific
culture, and this highlights common terms for use in surveys and structured interviews et
cetera. I will sample from the private, public, and traditional sectors of healthcare to
eliminate bias of the sample population with diverse and large as possible sample sets of
doctors and citizens from each background. Plus, I will invest proper time while
constructing the structured interviews and questionnaires, which can be then proofread by
instructors from the ICO; these steps both ameliorate potential bias and error.
Currently, Dr. Downing and I will be practicing these methods before I leave, and I will,
to my best, forwardly acknowledge any probable bias or error within my results once
collected and after written about. A maximally accurate response to all three research
aims will be achieved with these measures.
My preparation currently includes:
Pre-planning with Dr. Downing and discussion with Carmen Garcia-Downing, an
Oaxacan American who is an indigenous specialist within the University of Arizona’s
faculty at Mel and Enid Zuckermann College of Public Health—both advisors have
conducted research in Oaxaca.
Interviewed Dr. Elsa Cruz, a Zapotec Indian medical doctor who just completed her
social service in the Alta Mixteca of Oaxaca.
Through Dr. Cruz, made initial contact with the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez
de Oaxaca medical school.
Emailed the ICO to begin registration for the language, room and board programs.
Through Dr. Cruz, confirmed two doctors whom anticipate working with me.
Registered for the Responsible Conduct of Research Workshop Series to be held on
Second semester Spanish proficiency.
Created research progression timeline (below).
[0,1]=settle in, familiarize location, networking [4,5]=data from public, nonprofessionals
[1,2]=language work, inquire on topic at ICO [5,6]= data from private public samples
[2,4]=begin writing surveys, check translations [6,7]=data from traditional healers
[2,4]=scheduling interviews, etc. for next month [7,8]=closing and writing week
Diagram Notes: I will be in contact via email with Dr. Downing and Carmen-Garcia Downing
throughout the project. At least twice I will meet in person with Carmen-Garcia Downing, while in
Oaxaca. The total time spent in Oaxaca will be two months either beginning May 20th
(dependent on MCAT testing schedules), so ending either July 20th
or August 20th
This opportunity will immensely enrich my entire life. Primarily, I will become more
worldly and aware of the connections between culture and individuals. In context of
practicing medicine, my sensitivity to patient culture and value will be fine-tuned. My
Spanish language capabilities will strengthen and improve, which means the Spanish to
English language barrier will not preclude my provision of care to any Latino
community. Also, experiencing research involving qualitative techniques prepares me for
medical school and other graduate level coarse work because of the emphasis on specific
and effective writing. The likelihood that others will gain exists too. It is possible that
other caretakers or students can glean new insights with presentation or the final findings.
This project seeks to provide understanding of cultural healthcare differences, while
academically preserving an accurate internal perspective on traditional and westernized
medicine in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Richard Alan Russell
1. Higgins, Cheleen Mahar. 1975. "Integrative Aspects of Folk and Western Medicine
Among the Urban Poor of Oaxaca". Anthropological Quarterly. 48, no. 1: 31-37.
2. Giovannini, Peter, and Michael Heinrich. 2009. "Xki Yoma' (Our Medicine) and Xki
Tienda (Patent Medicine)--Interface between Traditional and Modern Medicine Among the
Mazatecs of Oaxaca, Mexico". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 121, no. 3: 383.
3. Leedy, Paul. Practical Research Planning and Design. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
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