Professional Dreams May Change, but the Overall Goal is Reached

WCAHS researcher Jose Gutierrez

Jose Gutierrez has made an incredibly positive impact at WCAHS since he first started as a student worker in 2010. Below he reflects on his various experiences at WCAHS before leaving for a new job as coordinator of Pasos Saludables – a farmworker wellness program – at Reiter Affiliated Companies, one of the world’s largest berry growers. Jose will be missed, but we are excited to see him continue his path in occupational health and safety!

How did you come to WCAHS?

I started as a student assistant in the office and later participated in some education and outreach activities. After I completed my B.S., I was hired as a Community Health Program Representative for WCAHS with a heat illness research project. My new duties included working with the databases and coordinating the team activities at the field during the summer. [Notes: Read and see pictures of the student research team in an earlier blog.]

Did your career goals change while at WCAHS?

Yes, I started out wanting to be a physician and majored in Biopsychology and Spanish. When I was introduced to the “research world” I loved it; rather than fix a health problem, I now want to work to prevent the health problem in the first place by learning the root cause of the issues. Only then can effective preventive measures, such as better education models, improved regulations, etc., be made.

What was one of the biggest lessons you learned while at WCAHS?

How important it is to establish trust with the farmer and farmworkers when asking them to participate in a study. Establishing personal connections is crucial. The farmworkers were incredibly thankful that we were concerned about their welfare, and this increased their willingness to participate and learn about the signs of heat illness.

What inspires you about your work?

Definitely giving back to my community and helping them learn how to make positive, healthy changes. [Note: Jose comes from a Central Valley farmworker family and picked in the orchards as a teen. Read about Jose’s early life in the Summer 2011 WCAHS newsletter.]

What will you do at your new job?

I will be managing a wellness program for farmworkers. My new job will still be linked to UC Davis.  My new employer, Reiter Affiliated Companies, is hosting a study to test a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health among Latino farmworkers. I will coordinate a team of health educators and research assistants, as well as maintain communication with the UC Davis based research team.

Leaving WCAHS is hard, both professionally and personally, because it is such a great place to work, but I will use the skills/knowledge I learned to continue striving to improve the quality of life of farmworkers.