Erin Matheson ’18, a biochemistry major from Golden, Colorado, has always had an inclination toward the sciences and public benefit. “All my life, I’ve been inspired by people who have used scientific applications to improve the everyday lives of others,” she says. This summer, funded by a $10,000 grant through Davis Projects for Peace, Matheson will travel to Chile to establish a preventative diabetes program there. Her project, “Community Health: Comprehensive Approaches to Diabetes Prevention in Valparaíso, Chile,” will take a holistic approach to prevention, focusing on nutrition and exercise as well as pre-screenings and medical care.
As Matheson explains, “Type II diabetes is a global epidemic. It is the most common and expensive international health problem, costing $825 billion a year in total with diagnoses increasing by 8.5 percent in populations around the world.” With globally widening gaps in healthcare inequality, many at-risk populations for diabetes are not getting the preventative care they need. According to Matheson, in Chile alone, 9.3 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 79 has diabetes. It is expected that nearly 49 million people in South America will be diagnosed with the disease by 2040.
The inspiration for Matheson’s project topic stems from her extensive clinical work around diabetes prevention in the United States. After she received her phlebotomy certification, allowing her to draw and test blood, Matheson volunteered with nonprofit organizations in both Denver and Pomona, California, to screen for pre-diabetes as well as help treat affected individuals. “This volunteer work solidified my passion to provide healthcare resources to underserved communities and improve my clinical skills,” she says. This past summer, Matheson worked at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the Department of Pediatric Endocrinology with the Berrie Center for Diabetes, shadowing both Spanish and English-speaking patients. “Through this experience, I learned how diabetes is prevented and treated in the United States and how to communicate about diabetes in Spanish. I also worked on a new project, Family Improving Health Together, with the aim of streamlining pre-diabetes care between specialized physicians—from dieticians, to cardiologists, to exercise program leaders,” she recalls.
Matheson plans to draw on this knowledge and experience to establish her own preventative diabetes program in Valparaíso. Working with a local YMCA community center, she will implement a comprehensive diabetes awareness and education program to help curb Type II diabetes in the area. To ensure that the program continues after the grant is complete, Matheson will connect the YMCA with other diabetes specialists in the community. “While in Valparaíso, I will incorporate community stakeholders from nutrition, exercise, and medicine sectors and include their perspectives to create, and ultimately evaluate, the success of the program’s preventative approaches to diabetes.” Matheson says she is looking forward to listening to community members and tailoring the program closely to their needs, hoping ultimately to “make an impactful change and expand healthcare access on a problem I am greatly passionate about.”
After she completes her project in Chile, Matheson will return to Denver to begin a career in healthcare consulting with DaVita, one of the largest kidney care providers in the country. She is grateful for learning to analyze critically, think deeply, and be a better advocate for herself and those around her from her time at Scripps. Asked what she will miss most about her college experience, Matheson reflects, “Scripps would not be anything without its incredible student body. I am constantly inspired by my peers, and every moment spent listening to people’s stories and passions has really made this a rewarding place to live and learn.”