Walking through the atrium of the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, millimeters became miles. With each step taken, those attending Global Health Day on September 5 could travel from Haiti, to Uganda, to China, and back.
Representing research conducted in nearly 20 different nations on five continents over the summer, each of the two dozen posters presented by medical students and residents highlighted the diverse global health opportunities at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The Center for Global Health at Northwestern helps people connect and we have established relationships around the world where students can opt for an experience that fits their needs and expectations,” said Robert Murphy, MD, director of the Center for Global Health. “These opportunities range from rural experiences in some of the poorest and neediest places on Earth, to programs in middle-income and developed nations.”
Second-year medical student, Cristina Thomas, is among the nearly 45 percent of Feinberg students who decide to spend some amount of time abroad. Having first brought her research idea to a mentor in the Department of Dermatology, she spent two months in Kerala, India, studying disability and quality-of-life issues in people suffering from lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis.
“Finishing my first year of medical school I knew that I didn’t know that much about medicine yet, so I wanted to do something that I could actually see the differences in,” Thomas said. “Studying abroad may not be for everyone, but in general it is a very good opportunity to see another culture. Anywhere you go you will learn about the healthcare system and how it is different from ours.”
Feinberg’s Global Health Day, which included an afternoon panel discussion as well as the evening poster session, is designed to provide students, faculty, and McGaw Medical Center residents the opportunity to share recent global health projects with the Northwestern community and create networking opportunities among mentors and trainees. The event was planned and co-sponsored by the Student Committee on Global Health, Center for Global Health, and the Chicago Lake Shore Medical Associates’ Global Health Initiative.
The noontime discussion, which centered on global health career opportunities, featured a panel of faculty, residents, and fellows who talked about how they have incorporated global health into their careers in meaningful ways.
“Any student interested in global health should start as early in their career as possible,” said Murphy, John Philip Phair Professor of Infectious Diseases. “An interesting aspect is that global health is now a part of the new curriculum as one of the areas of scholarly concentration that students may choose. Electing to do this involves finding a suitable mentor, identifying a project, collecting data, travelling abroad, and writing a thesis prior to graduation.”
Many presenters during the later poster session seemed to have taken Murphy’s advice.
Anne Reihman joined three other students in traveling to Uganda to assess and address health care needs in the rural village of Kaduka.
“They don’t have the health resources let alone things like running water, clean water, flushable toilets, or things like that, and yet these people were so nice and welcoming,” Reihman said. “I was blown away by how happy they were and how receptive they were to us coming in and offering help.”
After identifying malaria, diarrhea, water cleanliness, and sanitation as the major community concerns, the group distributed 100 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to families with one or more children younger than five.
Reihman’s group was one of five that earned honorable mention in the poster contest, and the top award went to Thomas for her work “Disability and Health-Related Quality of Life in Lymphatic Filariasis Patients.”