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Arnold School of Public Health

Epidemiology and biostatistics’ Myriam Torres devotes career to improving health among Latino populations

June 28, 2018 | Erin Bluvas,

Myriam Torres knew she was interested in health when she studied nursing as an undergraduate at the Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá in her native Colombia. Her program had a strong clinical focus, with an emphasis on training in settings such as the emergency room and intensive care unit.

However, her path shifted when Torres discovered public health in the year following her 1981 graduation, when Columbian nurses, physicians, microbiologists, and lawyers are required to participate in 12 months of social service in remote/underserved regions of the country. After working as a nurse for a few years, Torres returned to school, this time at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin, to earn a master’s in public health.

Her master’s program introduced her to epidemiology, and she soon found herself at UofSC, earning a master of science in public health in epidemiology. After returning to Columbia to work as a health services coordinator, Torres came back to Carolina to earn a doctorate in epidemiology and then complete a postdoctoral fellowship with the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center.

Since her 2001 graduation, Torres has dedicated her career to preparing future public health professionals/researchers and epidemiologists for their own careers. In parallel, she has worked tirelessly to improve the health of Latino populations in South Carolina and beyond.

“I love everything I do,” says the clinical associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. “The opportunity to mentor undergraduate students in research has been a very rewarding experience. Seeing the next generation of public health and epidemiology leaders becoming more confident in research, many with Latino populations, is the highlight of my life at USC.”

Torres’ research and service activities focus on health issues among Latinos living in the U.S. and South Carolina as well as factors related to migration from Latin American countries—gathering data that is useful in shaping policies. For example, Torres collaborates with the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center to analyze health indicators in populations living at the U.S./Mexican border. Through the National Rural Health Association’s Border Health Initiative, Torres and other experts discuss border issues and provide input to the association’s leaders to inform their advocacy, policy and research goals.

Seeing the next generation of public health and epidemiology leaders becoming more confident in research, many with Latino populations, is the highlight of my life at USC.

-Myriam Torres, clinical associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics

Within South Carolina, Torres has conducted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded research on HIV knowledge, beliefs, and testing intentions among pregnant Latinas as well as National Institutes of Health-funded research on sexual practices and HIV knowledge among Latinos. In addition, she conducted a study on the experiences of Latinos during the 2015 floods and is sharing the results with various state agencies to address the main concerns and barriers this population experienced during that disaster.

Torres’ South Carolina-based work also includes collaborating with the psychology department and PASOs, one of South Carolina’s leading Latino-focused organizations, to conduct a mental health needs assessment for the Latino population. They have shared the results with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and participated in meetings to translate the data into action plans to improve the provision of mental health services to the state’s Latino population. For these and other efforts, she has been invited to serve on various boards across South Carolina to help voice the concerns and issues of the Latino population at different levels.

At USC, Torres serves as the director of the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies, which promotes and coordinates interdisciplinary and translational research on the experiences of Latinos in South Carolina and the Southeast, disseminates data related to Hispanic/Latino issues, and supports teaching/collaboration in these areas. Since the Consortium moved from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Arnold School in 2004, Torres and her team have held two immigration conferences (most recently in 2016), with scholars attending from all over the United States and Mexico. It also provides a home for PASOs, where Torres is on the board of directors and contributes to evaluation activities.

At the university level, Torres established, and currently chairs, the Hispanic and Latino Faculty Caucus, which advises the administration on issues related to recruitment and retention of Latino faculty members. For several years, she served on committees working with students applying for Fulbright Scholarships, and last year she was invited by the Provost to serve as a Fulbright Faculty Advisor—the only faculty member from the Arnold School to serve in this role.

“My role is to work with students applying for Fulbright scholarships, mentoring them in writing their applications, choosing the country they want to apply to, leading the USC interview in preparation to their Fulbright interview and writing the USC letter of support accompanying the application,” Torres explains. “It is a wonderful opportunity to meet a group of extremely talented students who want to pursue great projects, many in countries with very different cultures.”

In 2015, she was instrumental in establishing study abroad office’s Global USC in Costa Rica: Global Health program, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate-level epidemiology courses. The Costa Rica program, which is based in San José, gives students the opportunity to visit local hospitals, clinics and non-profit organizations to learn about working environments in health-related fields within a global context.

“This year we had a record 22 students and we taught epidemiology (EPID 410 and 700), Global Health (HPEB 470), Public Health 102 and Spanish,” Torres says of the successful program. “Since the start of the Costa Rica program my epidemiology class has required a project conducted in a nursing home. Earlier this year, I was awarded a grant from USC’s Center for Teaching Excellence to expand the project idea so that not only students in the epidemiology courses but students in the other public health courses taught in Costa Rica have the opportunity to do field work in the area.”

Torres’ long list of accomplishments in teaching, mentoring and in myriad leadership roles promoting the health of Latino populations has not gone unrecognized.  Over the years, Torres has received numerous certificates of appreciation and other honors from the organizations she serves. In 2015, she received the James E. Clyburn Health Disparities Leadership Award and in 2017, she received the Arnold School of Public Health Faculty Service Award.

“The University of South Carolina is extremely fortunate to have benefitted from the talent, commitment and ‘can do’ spirit of Dr. Myriam Torres,” says Anthony Alberg, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics. “Countless students have benefitted from her tutelage and she has been a ‘difference maker’ in promoting the health of the Latino community.”


Making an impact through USC in Costa Rica: Global Health

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