The Catalyst

Grant supports global health research, fieldwork

By Bilan Williams
Public Relations

The MUSC Center for Global Health awarded five students and one resident with $2,000 each to support global health research and fieldwork projects this year in four countries.

Sara Winn holds a young Haitian child as he is tended to by Dr. Terry Dixon, assistant professor in Pediatrics Infectious Disease.
Sara Winn holds a young Haitian child as he is tended to by Dr. Terry Dixon, assistant professor in Pediatrics Infectious Disease.

The Trainee Global Health Travel Grant Program was established to give students and trainees the opportunity to help enhance their clinical skills in low- or middle-income countries. This is the first year the Center for Global Health has administered the travel grant program.

The recipients were Cameron Bell, Catherine Foster, Ruwan Ratnayake and Sara Winn of the College of Medicine, Geoff Bloomquist of the College of Dental Medicine, Sarah Logan of the College of Graduate Studies and Catherine Foster, a pediatric resident from the College of Medicine.

Kathleen Ellis, the director of operations for the Center of Global Health, said MUSC is only one of many universities emphasizing the importance of receiving global experience.

“Most of the top academic medical centers and research universities in the United States have put global health at the forefront and have become dedicated to global health,” said Ellis.

Each year more students become involved in international health care. Nationally, 30 percent of all medical students go overseas at some time during their medical education, and those numbers continue to grow. Recent Association of American Medical College data revealed that more than 65 percent of incoming medical students have a strong desire to pursue global learning opportunities. 

MUSC too recognized the significance of giving students the opportunity to expand their skills by traveling abroad, which is why the Center for Global Health created the grants.

Dr. Cindy Swenson, from left, joins Dr. Sarah Logan, Chief Powerful (with the Okurase village), Dr. Eve Spratt, Logan Roof, Cameron Bell, Kim Lewis and Laura Fields. The MUSC Center for Global Health awarded five students and one resident with $2,000 each to support global health research.
Dr. Cindy Swenson, from left, joins Dr. Sarah Logan, Chief Powerful (with the Okurase village), Dr. Eve Spratt, Logan Roof, Cameron Bell, Kim Lewis and Laura Fields. The MUSC Center for Global Health awarded five students and one resident with $2,000 each to support global health research.

“There’s a huge interest here on campus, and fieldwork can be life-changing experiences for students who undertake them,” said Ellis. “Students who go overseas gain a deeper understanding of public health and return with a much greater understanding of not only the populations they are serving, but also the challenges involved in limited resources.”

Winn said she hopes to continue doing global health trips later in her career, and the experience from the grant just furthers the ambition.

“It’s difficult for students who are already living off loans to attend trips like these,” Winn said. “Having the Center for Global Health provide the trainee travel grant is fantastic.”

The application process includes a two-page proposal depicting the applicants’ objectives, the activities they plan on engaging in, their background and experience, as well as a timeline showing how they plan on accomplishing their goals. Out of 17 applicants, Ellis said six were chosen.

“I went to China and Cambodia on medical trips the summer after my first year, and I wish I had the chance to apply at that time too,” said Winn.

Meeting the objectives

Using her grant to travel to a rural village called Okurase located in Ghana, Logan participated in an annual Village Health Outreach event where medical professionals and volunteers from the states collaborated with local Ghanaian leaders to provide health care services to members of the Okurase community who present a host of medical concerns.

"My objectives were to demonstrate an awareness of the ethical issues involved in cross-cultural health care delivery by developing a compassionate relationship with members of the village and those from the states,” she said.

Logan traveled with her 16-year-old son who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.

“We were told he would never be mainstreamed. Today, he is thriving at a nice private school and enrolled in several AP classes,” she said.

Logan’s son contributed to the trip by creating a network to facilitate on-site data collection by wirelessly transferring data to the main computer.

“He spent weeks before the trip writing the code, beta testing the data entry process, and ensured it would work on any device with a web browser,” Logan said. “It doesn’t require any Internet, just a solar battery to keep it charged since there is no electricity in the village.”

Winn used her grant money to travel to Haiti with the student group MUSC Service Learners International, which she said is made up of a group of students who want to participate in student-driven global health trips.

“We provide MUSC students with a unique opportunity of planning and executing an international service trip,” Winn said. “We work hard all year round to put our trip together. From fundraising to planning our clinic schedule and booking flights, our students make it happen.”

As curriculum chair within her group, Winn created a brief curriculum before the trip citing diseases they may encounter, pre-trip information and resources they may need.

“We had several curriculum meetings with guest MUSC faculty members who spoke about their time working with international medicine and/or Haiti in particular,” Winn said. “I think it’s valuable for us to hear how attending physicians have stayed involved in global work at various stages of their career.”

Another of Winn’s objectives was to initiate a nightly informal conference known as the “evening report” where students and attending physicians would present and discuss some of the cases from clinic.

College of Medicine student and a recipient of a travel grant from the Center for Global Health, Sara Winn, takes the temperature of a child while serving overseas.
College of Medicine student and a recipient of a travel grant from the Center for Global Health, Sara Winn, takes the temperature of a child while serving overseas.

“This is a format of teaching that is commonly utilized in residency and academic medicine in general,” said Winn. “It was a great addition to the debriefings we had in the evenings, and cases often led us to discuss various other medical topics.”

Having the opportunity to do some overseas learning is believed to be extremely beneficial for students and trainees. Upon returning, most have learned skills and immeasurable experience valuable for their chosen field of medicine.

“Students often describe their global health experience as a defining moment in their training,” said Ellis. “That’s why we’re making it a priority to establish this type of grant program.”

“Someone once told me when there is divine chaos, embrace it and move forward,” said Logan. “Until one witnesses those conditions, it seems hard to imagine. But it gets into your heart, draws you back and makes one realize how lucky we are.”

Logan said the trip was a huge growing experience for her. “It’s important to communicate when working in an interdisciplinary environment in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people.”

According to statistics, it is not uncommon for students to feel that way. It has been found that students who go to developing countries and do some type of work are more likely to return and serve in underserved populations in their own country.

“The grant encourages students and residents to consider international rotations that they otherwise couldn’t afford,” said Winn. “In addition, the grant is structured so students and residents come back and share their work with the MUSC community.”

August 7, 2013
 
 
 

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