Skip Navigation
The Catalyst

Student explores benefits of population, global health

MUSC student Caroline West visited Aconcagua, Chile (between Mendoza and Santiago) for six weeks prior to starting medical school. photos by Caroline West

By Kevin Wiley
Center for Global Health

During undergraduate pre-med courses, Caroline West stumbled on a medical anthropology course that changed the lens through which she viewed the practice of medicine.

West, a second-year College of Medicine student and president of the college’s Global Tropical Medicine Interest Group she credits this early exposure to public health for fueling her desire to help disadvantaged groups domestically and abroad.

“Taking these courses as the basis of my experience made me realize that you can do a lot in populations to eliminate cultural and access barriers to health care,” said West. “Volunteering in regional programs working with the migrant Hispanic community was pivotal in broadening my cultural perspective and reinforced the

West’s interest in global health is quite common among today’s health professional students.  In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that more than 65 percent of incoming medical students wish to pursue global work while completing their degree. West shares that MUSC is representative of that statistic as more incoming students are asking about international research and service learning experiences.

“Universities offering global health opportunities are a big draw and very attractive to students making decisions about where they want to pursue their studies,” she said. In response to this desire, MUSC students worked with the College of Medicine to create the student interest group GTMIG whose goal is to provide students with information about how to incorporate global health into a medical career, to learn from faculty and community leaders who work in global health and to hear from other students who have participated in service learning trips.

Second-year medical students and MUSC Global and Tropical Medicine officers include Zilan Lin, from left, Tiffani Brandon,  and Caroline West. Not pictured is Jacob Kahn.

West has found ways to contribute to global projects that will enhance her skills as a future medical professional.

Recently, she began working on post-interview guidelines for discussing hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease test results in Tanzania with Michael Sweat, Ph.D., director of  the MUSC Center for Global Health.

Sweat provided West with the opportunity to gain experience by understanding societal norms of the host country and working with his team to develop culturally sensitive survey guidelines for the host country. From this came a mentor-mentee relationship that will outlive her involvement with Sweat’s project.

“From my own work in low-income countries I can say without reservation that having students get involved has been a real ‘win-win’ situation,” Sweat said. “For the student, they tend to gain enormously in terms of their knowledge, but also in gaining a deep appreciation in working cross-culturally.”

West commented that students interested in pursuing global fieldwork and research experiences need to understand it takes upfront planning and creativity to figure out the best timing and funding while in school. To help foster the overwhelming student and resident desire for international service learning experiences and to offset some of the related expenses, the MUSC Center for Global Health offers a Trainee Global Health Travel Grant. The $2,000 grants are part of a competitive application process that evaluates many criteria, including the strength of the applicant’s learning objectives and preparedness to undertake the project. The next round of grants will be announced in January 2014.

“We have had large turnouts of students, residents, and trainees at all levels for recent events that MUSC Center for Global Health has sponsored this past year,” Sweat said. “I am amazed by their drive to help. These are busy people dealing with enormous pressures, yet they volunteer, raise funds, and give up their few breaks from school to help with global health projects. I think this reflects foremost a deep desire to address some of the most daunting problems humanity faces. These are the kinds of humanistic issues that drew MUSC students into health professions – the desire to make a significant impact on the betterment of humanity.”

Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission from MUSC Center for Global Health,

December 12, 2013

© 2013  Medical University of South Carolina | Disclaimer