Providing care in exotic, remote locales

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Serving, learning, reflecting – these are the experiences that make global health rotations meaningful.

During the month of April, five groups of WVU Health Sciences students will travel to locations around the world. Seventeen students will gain knowledge about other cultures and what those cultures can teach them about people, healthcare and problem solving.

WVU faculty preceptors will accompany students rotating in Barbuda, China, Fiji and Ghana, while Amizade Global Service Learning is facilitating the rotation in Brazil – a first for the WVU Global Health Program.

“Global health rotations are a great opportunity for inter-professional education,” Global Health Program Director Melanie A. Fisher, M.D., M.Sc., said. “Medical students get to work side by side with dental students, public health students, nursing students and pharmacy students. That’s a theme of the future – healthcare is a team effort. It’s better for patients. It’s better all around.”

Based in the Amazon city of Santarém, the Brazil rotation will provide inter-professional experiences for four medical students and one dental student. HSC Director of International Programs Christopher J. Martin, M.D., M.Sc., explained that in addition to providing care at hospitals and clinics, students will work aboard a river boat.

“They will be serving local communities on a boat,” Dr. Martin said. “For many people, this is the only care they get. Students will live and work on the boat. What better way to promote inter-professional education than to be in close quarters?”

Amizade’s Brazil Site Coordinator Nathan Darity added that the boat excursion will involve traveling for 24 hours after departing Santarém. On the return journey, the boat will stop at three locations, which serve 23 small, adjacent Afro-Brazilian communities.

“My responsibility is to meet with students and help them continually make sense of what they’re doing across all professional channels,” Darity noted. “I focus on critical reflection and meet with them to explore connections with what they’re seeing, what that tells us about Brazil and how that prepares them for professional careers.”

That reflection is a crucial element to all global health rotations, according to Dr. Fisher.

“The global health rotation experience is good for students because it gives them a whole new perspective on the practice of medicine and dealing with people from all over the world,” Fisher added. “They see the commonalities we have, including the common problems and how to handle them. We can learn from other cultures and how other people solve their problems.”

WVU School of Medicine fourth-year student Sunjay Mannan, who will be rotating in China for the month of April, is eager for the opportunity to sharpen his problem-solving skills.

“Most eastern cultures respect the condition of the group over that of the individual,” Mannan said. “So I am looking forward to seeing how individuals in China deal with their problems, while they try to preserve the integrity of their respective groups.”

Students expect to encounter challenges such as language barriers, bumper-to-bumper traffic and lacking healthcare resources. They also are anticipating stark differences, given the excess we often experience in American culture.

“Being in a culture that is not overwhelmed with the excess of things, like in the United States, we will be humbled and learn what things are actually important in life,” medical student Meghan Taylor, who will be rotating in Ghana, said. “I also hope that professionally, I will learn to care for patients in a way that antibiotics and stitches can't provide.”

Another Ghana participant, Dustin Snapper, added, “I expect this experience will broaden my understanding of medicine, expand my consciousness of different cultural realities and allow me to develop more empathy for people living in impoverished conditions. Additionally, I anticipate that I will further appreciate the advantages of living in my own society.”

Medical student Alison Spiker, who will be serving in Fiji with her husband Grant Morris, said they have gotten “hooked” on international medical work, an occurrence that Fisher said is common among students in the Global Health Program. Spiker and Morris plan to continue in the global health field throughout their lives.

“Professionally, I can see this experience as enhancing my understanding of the logistics required to plan and execute such a grand endeavor,” Spiker noted. “I will, undoubtedly, grow on a personal level from my experience in Fiji. Self-reflection will definitely occur while abroad, and my husband and I will certainly come home with refined goals for our life in medical mission work.”

Follow WVU Global Health on Twitter to keep up with the global health rotations in Barbuda, Brazil, China, Fiji and Ghana.

Photo caption: WVU School of Medicine students and husband and wife team, Grant Morris and Alison Spiker, pack medical supplies in preparation for their rotation in Fiji.

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For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
alh: 03-28-13