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In collaboration with Honduran partners, UBC students will help set up community health centres
In collaboration with Honduran partners, UBC students will help set up community health centres

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 4 | Apr. 5, 2007

Med Students Walk the Global Talk

By Hilary Thomson

A group of UBC med students wants to do more than stand on the sidelines when it comes to delivering health care in developing nations.

That’s why they organized the UBC Students’ Global Health Initiative (GHI).

“Students involved in GHI are passionate about global citizenship and want to find a way to live it,” says second-year student Siu-Kae Yeong, who helped found GHI in 2006.

Last year, the group worked with founding faculty advisors, Pediatrics Prof. Andrew Macnab and Dr. Videsh Kapoor, a UBC clinical assistant professor, along with local partners to launch health workshops in Vancouver and run pilot programs in Uganda, India and Honduras. This year, they estimate that approximately 200 students will attend the workshops and more than two dozen first- and second- year med students will work in those sites, starting next month.

“We lack curriculum to deliver global health skills to students,” says Macnab, also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC. “We need to prepare the next generation of doctors to be skilled advocates for global health and to translate their experiences into curriculum development.”

To address that concern, the GHI offers skill-building workshops, with assistance from mentors from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and the departments of Pediatrics and Surgery at BC Children’s Hospital.

About 50 students attend workshops held every month during the academic year. Experienced field workers present cases, and students use the problem-based learning model to create solutions and get feedback from instructors.

Topics include ethical decision making, project development and cross-cultural communication. The free workshops are open to students from all disciplines, and students from other universities and colleges. In addition, students returning from field experiences are expected to transfer their knowledge via mentoring and presentations at medical school seminars, lectures, conferences and other venues.

Key to the whole program and what makes it unique in Canada is the partnership between students, UBC faculty and global partners, says Macnab. Partners identify the health-care needs of their community, request collaboration from UBC and decide how the care program should be delivered and sustained locally.

Second-year med student Linzie Taylor was one of five UBC students who worked in Uganda for eight weeks in 2006 as part of the Brighter Smiles Africa Program. Together with a pediatrician and pediatric resident, they responded to a request from the Dept. of Dentistry in the Faculty of Medicine at Makerere University. Along with 12 Ugandan dental students and faculty from Makerere, the group delivered oral health education to almost 600 elementary school-aged children in four rural communities.

“I have an interest in public health promotion so this experience was perfect for me,” says Taylor. “I was able to meet my learning objectives and the team I worked with were fun, great people. The kids were adorable.”

Taylor helped survey the children’s oral health, teach them about cavities and dental hygiene, handed out toothbrushes -- often the child’s first and replacing a ‘chew stick’ or piece of wood frayed at the end -- and assisted with fluoride treatments.

The Brighter Smiles Africa project grew from a similar partnership Macnab established in the Aboriginal community of Hartley Bay, B.C. The successful oral health program there led to other community health issues being addressed and the same outcome is anticipated in Uganda, says Macnab.

Ten students will travel to Uganda this year (students pay their own travel costs) to evaluate and expand the Brighter Smiles Africa Program and 12 students will work at the Spiti Munseling School in northern India.

Together with Kapoor and the Canada-based TransHimalalyan Aid Society, students have responded to community requests to establish a health centre for children, train local women as health-care workers for the centre and develop a health curriculum for school and community. In addition, they will help develop health promotion and disease prevention programs at the school. UBC students will collaborate with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) as well as Vancouver and Dutch NGOs working in the same area.

Second-year med students Adam Watchorn and Jessica Chiles will lead a project in Honduras, along with four students and UBC Clinical Instructor Dr. Tammy Attia. In collaboration with Honduran Program for Development of Infant and Mother, the group will work on installing community-run health centres and offering educational programs on public health issues.

Participants and faculty are challenged to find time to work with GHI students and partners, to secure funding to keep the program going and find ways to weave the learning into curriculum, says Macnab.

“There’s a huge synergistic benefit here for everyone involved  -- we want to formalize the program so the spirit and intentions of the university’s vision are embedded in learning.” 

BC Children’s Hospital is an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority.

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Last reviewed 11-Apr-2007

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