An exploration of the utilization of health care facilities by trafficked youth in Philadelphia

Needi Mehta conducting research




Attending physician and Division Chief of Emergency Medicine

Project Summary

This summer, I had the opportunity to be part of a pediatric research project under the guidance of Dr. Tsai and Dr. Mollen at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The goal of this project was to explore the experiences trafficked youth in Philadelphia have had with health care and elicit ideas for how health care providers can better identify and offer services to trafficked minors.

Part of my job this summer was to conduct semi-structured interviews with previously trafficked minors in Philadelphia. Interviews took place at the Covenant House in Philadelphia, PA with participants who were previously trafficked before the age of 18. These interviews were recorded and then transcribed. The team of researchers and I then used a modified grounded theory approach in order to identify and synthesize recurring themes that emerged across interviews. 

During the summer, I attended one-on-one training sessions to learn how to conduct semi-structured interviews on my own. Training included studying interview methods as well role playing the interview and receiving in-depth feedback. I learned many interviewing procedures, such as using open-ended techniques in order to learn more about each subject’s experiences. Each interview aimed to be a semi-structured conversation focused on subjects’ access to health care in particular. I asked questions such as, “How did you take care of yourself before coming to Covenant House?”, “Were you ever sick or injured during this time?” “What type of health care facility did you attend?” and “Did you want someone in the clinic to find out what was happening to you? Why or why not?” Conducting interviews gave me a better idea of how to think quickly and keep an open-ended mind. I learned how to engage with my subjects and ask questions that would lead to a better understanding of each experience.

I also had the opportunity to learn how to do qualitative coding using NVIVO software, a database where I would upload interview transcripts and code them. Coding refers to creating categories of patterns observed in interviews, such as “Patient trafficking context” or “Barriers to receiving health care during trafficking” into which the researchers and I would upload all interview responses that were relevant. As a team, we created a preliminary codebook based off of the interview guide. Each of us then grouped responses from the same interview with the predetermined codebook. Using an inter-rater reliability method on NVIVO, I was in charge of analyzing how comparing each investigator’s codes. Differences in coding were then discussed until a final codebook was able to be developed. Not only did I learn how to use a new coding software, but now I understand more about the qualitative research process and how to maintain open communication with the rest of my team throughout a project.

This research opportunity has significantly contributed to my educational experience and has provided me with a hands on approach to public health and pediatric health. I have learned tools I cannot learn in a classroom and am thankful to be able to advocate for a community in Philadelphia that I otherwise might not have been exposed to. The project has excited me for my future as a physician and has helped me recognize my future social responsibility in health care. I am looking forward to continuing my project during the fall semester and thankful that PURM has provided me with this opportunity.