Students in the Field: Michelle Pieters

August 05, 2019
Michelle Pieters (right) and Katherine Melgar, a study coordinator and local collaborator, stand next to the tents in Ventanilla district, Callao, Peru where they recruit women and interview them on their knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding cervical cancer screening.
Michelle Pieters (right) and Katherine Melgar, a study coordinator and local collaborator, stand next to the tents in Ventanilla district, Callao, Peru where they recruit women and interview them on their knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding cervical cancer screening. The tents are set up next to mobile units that travel to the different districts of Lima offering free cancer screening for women.

Every summer, global health students at Duke University travel to countries around the world to do field research in a variety of topics within global health—including environmental health, women’s reproductive health, infectious disease, health policy and more. 

DGHI caught up with Master of Science in Global Health student Michelle Pieters to learn more about the work she is doing in Peru studying the knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding cervical cancer screening among women of reproductive age in metropolitan Lima and Callao. Under the mentorship of Dr. Lavanya Vasudevan, assistant professor of family medicine and community health and assistant research professor of global health at Duke, Pieters’ research compares women who have previously been screened for cervical cancer to those who have never been screened.

DGHI: What inspired you to pursue THIS project?

Pieters: I have always been interested in and an advocate for reproductive health. This project allowed me to understand a little bit more about the preventative side of reproductive health and how women understand their value in their society. I love the work that La Liga Contra El Cancer (League Against Cancer) does in Lima—they’re a non-profit organization that works for the prevention and detection of cancer. They carry out educational campaigns to spread awareness on the importance of routine checkups to prevent sickness. They also offer cancer-screening services and work with communities around Lima. The organization sponsors mobile units that travel to the lower resource districts of Lima offering free breast and cervical cancer screening tests for women.

The impact that the mobile units have in women’s life is big, and I am grateful that I am able to take part in this project. I think there is no culture around preventative health yet, so being part of this project and seeing women taking steps ahead and caring for themselves is empowering.

DGHI: What has surprised you about your fieldwork?

Pieters: When planning for fieldwork and preparing my interview guide, I was worried that women would be really skeptical and would not want to answer questions that were personal and touched upon their reproductive health. However, after interviewing most of my sample, I have not had a problem with anyone not wanting to answer questions or feeling uncomfortable with them. Everyone is very open and wants to talk about their reproductive health and the importance of women taking time off for themselves to care for them.

DGHI: What’s the best piece of advice you got when preparing for your fieldwork?

Pieters: When doing qualitative interviews, always have two recorders! At first, I thought this would make things more complicated, but after conducting interviews in crowded, busy, high traffic areas, I am glad I have two of them.