• Research

    Battling trafficking

Jennifer Talbott wearing a blue tie-dyed mask, talking with a young woman.
Medical student, Jennifer Talbott, spends time with a young patient at the Mayo Clinic infusion center in Arizona.

Editor's Note: This article is the final in the Young Innovators series, originally published in Mayo Clinic's Alumni Magazine. Each article features Mayo Clinic trainee innovators and explores their journeys. All of these trainees say their goal was to improve health care for patients.

Fourth-year medical student Jennifer Talbott knows a thing or two about human trafficking. Her father is the director of advocacy at the Human Rights Center at the University in Dayton, Ohio. After Talbott enrolled at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine on the Arizona campus, she became curious about how victims of trafficking interact with the medical community. Her curiosity led to research, and research led to enhancing the medical school’s curriculum.

As a result of Talbott’s initiative — and with support from Juliana (Jewel) Kling, M.D., a member of the Education Committee at Mayo Clinic in Arizona — the medical school’s curriculum now trains students to identify and provide resources to human trafficking’s potential victims. The curriculum includes simulations with a standardized patient who exhibits warning signs of sex trafficking, discussions about these encounters and learning from a facilitator.

Because human trafficking has been deemed a growing international public health concern, educational councils and medical societies recommend that medical students learn to recognize and care for the victims. Health care providers are among the few professionals to interact with sex trafficking victims, who often have poor health. An estimated 88% of victims saw a health care provider while they were being trafficked. The majority were seen in an emergency room or primary care office for chronic medical conditions or acute or traumatic injuries. Yet, according to Talbott’s research, most medical students and practicing providers don’t feel comfortable identifying victims.

Talbott’s research also showed that only four medical schools have published about human trafficking-specific training for their students. She posits that robust curriculum could close the educational gaps and allow for improved identification and treatment of victims of human trafficking.

“Interested medical schools could look to published curricula or consider sharing resources to identify curriculum on sex trafficking that can be integrated into their existing programs,” says Talbott, who took a one-year leave of absence from medical school to get a master’s in public health from Columbia University. She hopes to incorporate the new curriculum with Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester. “Health care providers are in a unique position to have an impact on this public health problem. It’s incumbent on us to include education about trafficking in the core curriculum for medical students.”

Want to learn more?

Visit the Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans website.


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