Health Perceptions of Migrant Workers in West Michigan

Keep, Suzanne Ph.D., RN, Martha BSN Kuyten, Amy Blaskowski, Madison Chapman, Kurt Dietrich, Amber Haga, Tricia Haveman, and Shelby Visser


Migrant workers are an essential component of the agricultural industry in the United States and in West Michigan.  Despite being a vital workforce in the agriculture business, migrant workers are known to live in poverty with limited resources.  Migrant workers are considered to be a vulnerable population and are at risk for poor health due to genetic predisposition of diabetes and cardiac disease.  Migrant workers also live in crowded living conditions and are prone to a variety of health conditions including musculoskeletal injury, infectious and intestinal diseases.  In addition, Migrant workers are at risk to develop Pterygium, a growth of the conjunctiva that is related to high sun exposure.


The purpose of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the perceptions of health beliefs of Migrant Workers of West Michigan; and to asses if migrant workers have possible effects of sun exposure to their eyes, resulting in a visual growth in their eyes; and service needs of Migrant Workers in Kent and or Ottawa County, MI.

This study used a convenience sample, with a descriptive, and quantitative design.  Over 100 interviews were conducted by University of Detroit Mercy nursing students, at apple orchards and at migrant camps in Fall 2015, in Kent and Ottawa Counties. This study was conducted during the Community Health Practicum, during the students' senior year.  Department of Health and Human Services workers assisted the students with asking questions in Spanish.  Demographic information, questions related to self-perceptions of health concerns, and barriers to accessing health care were collected. Migrant Worker’s conjunctiva of the eyes were also inspected for any growth.

The participants in this study were 100% Hispanic with 90.6% from Mexico, 3.4% Central America, and 6% from the United States.  Most of the workers were married: 53.4% while 30.3% were single.  Most travelled with their spouse/family, 51.3% and 33.6% travelled alone.  The highest level of education consisted of:  24.4% completed a high school education, 26% completed elementary, 26% and some elementary.

Almost all of the participants reported that they enjoyed life: 97.5%, and most said that they were always healthy: 72.9%. Upon observation of the eyes, a presence of growth was indicated in 30% of the migrant workers.  When asked where the migrant workers go for help when needed, most go to the health clinic: 76%;  6% stated they do not go for help, and 5% go to the hospital for medical help.

Sunglasses were provided to migrant workers who wanted them.  This study indicated for further study for eye exams.

The students gained a rich understanding of the needs of migrant workers which resulted in discussions and reflective journaling on the mission of UDM and carrying out the mission, serving the marginalized and underserved.