Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
University of Utah student Sarah Iribarren is only the second nurse to receive a National Institutes of Health/Fogarty Fellowship.

A University of Utah nursing graduate student has received a prestigious National Institutes of Health/Fogarty Center fellowship. Sarah Iribarren will spend 10 months in Argentina learning about medical/clinical research. She is only the second nurse to be awarded the honor in the scholarship program's history.

"Originally, it was for medical students to get research experience, but the last couple of years they've been trying to entice people in other fields," said Iribarren, who plans eventually to work in international public health with the group, the World Health Organization, NIH or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Iribarren will spend almost a year working with a mentor in the Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. American fellows are paired with counterparts from other countries, so she'll be teamed with a student from Argentina, although probably not a fellow nurse.

At the institute, she'll be working in the twin areas of mother-and-child health research and health-care policy and research, including health technology assessment and economic evaluations. Both are areas of global concern and dovetail nicely with Iribarren's interest in health as a global issue, according to her mentor in the U. College of Nursing, assistant professor Patricia Pearce.

"She's an extraordinary doctoral student — focused, determined and has always set her sights on working in international health and infectious disease," Pearce said. "The Fogarty fellowship is a big award" that's not often awarded to nurses. "She will be working under the mentorship there of a principal investigator who does health research" from an international perspective, she added.

A field of 170 applicants was winnowed to 40 finalists, who went to the Washington, D.C., for interviews with primary investigators before ranking the sites where they'd like to work. Thirty scholars were awarded the fellowships to 22 international sites.

The only down side, said Iribarren, is that her husband, Steve, will stay in Salt Lake City because of his own work obligations. They're planning visits. Since all the fellows must have at least a year of education left, she'll be back to finish up with — she hopes — a big project and lots of new knowledge in hand.

Iribarren earned her bachelor's degree in biology but knew she wanted to pursue some kind of medical career. She studied one year in Ecuador and volunteered for a few months in an indigenous clinic there. That led her to nursing, but it also sparked her interest in international health care. It was her first time outside of the United States, and she "loved the different cultures, all the diversity, people, learning a new language and the challenges that go with it."

After receiving her nursing degree, she became health-care coordinator for a migrant Head Start program in Oregon. She then went back to nursing school for an advanced degree. She wanted critical-care experience "crucial to any setting," and she now works in the medical intensive care unit at theVeterans Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

But research and policy captivate her. "That's where change can be made," she said. Last summer, she went to Ghana in Africa with the U. School of Medicine, which has an ongoing community-based research project.

The scholars will all meet at the group headquarters in July for an orientation, then a shorter session at either Vanderbilt or Tulane universities. They are expected to be on site in their assigned clinics Aug. 1.

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