Team Investment and Longitudinal Relationships: An Innovative Global Health Education Model

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Abstract

Problem

Increasing student interest in global health has resulted in medical schools offering more global health opportunities. However, concerns have been raised, particularly about one-time, short-term experiences, including lack of follow-through for students and perpetuation of unintentional messages of global health heroism, neocolonialism, and disregard for existing systems and communities of care. Medical schools must develop global health programs that address these issues.

Approach

The Global Health Scholars Program (GHSP) was created in 2008–2009 at Penn State College of Medicine. This four-year program is based on values of team investment and longitudinal relationships and uses the service–learning framework of preparation, service, and reflection. Teams of approximately five students, with faculty oversight, participate in two separate monthlong trips abroad to the same host community in years 1 and 4, and in campus- and Web-based activities in years 2 and 3.

Outcomes

As of December 2016, 191 students have been accepted into the GHSP. Since inception, applications have grown by 475% and program sites have expanded from one to seven sites on four continents. The response from students has been positive, but logistical challenges persist in sustaining team investment and maintaining longitudinal relationships between student teams and host communities.

Next Steps

Formal methods of assessment should be used to compare the GHSP model with more traditional approaches to global health education. Other medical schools with similar aims can adapt the GHSP model to expand their global health programming.

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