Health problems like infectious diseases and non-communicable conditions cross borders. They affect communities everywhere, and often disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.
However, the practice of global health has a history of power asymmetries in both its educational and clinical settings. An uncritical approach can perpetuate harmful structures of inequity and reinforce neocolonial dynamics.
During a global health internship, students integrate their theoretical knowledge into a practice setting. This is a great way for them to apply their knowledge to a real world problem while gaining valuable skills and experiences. In addition, internships can be a wonderful way to meet people and learn about new places and cultures.
Internships may take place in the US or abroad, and are usually unpaid. Some internships may require special qualifications such as a degree in public health, medical science, or social sciences, while others are open to any undergraduate or graduate student with a good command of English and who is fluent in one of the official languages of the host country.
For example, an intern could work with the non-governmental organization (NGO) HealthRight on research, community outreach, and education initiatives for children with mental illness in the US, Africa, or Asia. Alternatively, an intern could work with the State Department’s Office of Diplomacy and International Security on public health issues in Moldova (a former Soviet republic that is among Europe’s poorest countries).
These types of internships can be transformative for future healthcare professionals who develop their interests in global health as they become aware of broader socioeconomic issues affecting people and communities in low-income countries. Such programs can help reshape the perspectives of young health-care practitioners and make them more inclined to support health equity in their careers.
Many medical and public health students want to use their training to impact global healthcare issues. However, these aspiring professionals often struggle to find advice and guidance for pursuing this career path. This has contributed to an increase in the number of students seeking international experiences during their undergraduate, postgraduate and professional training. This is evidenced by the growing number of universities, non-governmental organizations and other education providers who offer global health activities to students.
Typically, global health curricula include in-depth examinations of the social, economic, educational, cultural, political and other factors that influence individual and community wellness. These determinants are complex and dynamic, contributing to global health problems such as the spread of infectious diseases, poverty, inequality, climate change, food insecurity and mental illness.
In addition, global health curricula must address the disproportionate impact of these health problems on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. This is essential for promoting equity and health justice.
Finally, global health curriculum should consider the ways in which students from high-income countries (HICs) and other institutions perpetuate the health inequality they see abroad. One way to do this is by integrating an epistemic injustice framework into curricula. This enables students to examine the ways their research, work and travel contributes to or detracts from the advancement of global health.
In addition to the traditional classroom setting, students can also learn about global health issues by working with local community organizations. These activities can help students better understand the impact of their future careers on a world beyond national borders, and they can also provide valuable skills that will contribute to solving global health challenges.
While some schools offer only “pure” community-based learning (CBL), which focuses solely on service to the community, others use CBL in conjunction with their discipline courses. In these cases, educators make explicit and purposeful connections between class materials and local contexts or ideas—for example, the workings of a democratic political system might be explained in terms of a local community’s political process, statistics could be taught by utilizing data from local businesses, and scientific concepts could be explored through interaction with local ecosystems.
As a result, community-based learning often leads to more tolerant, aware and altruistic students who are better prepared to work with communities after graduation. However, some students may become disillusioned with the experience of working with marginalized communities and find that it is difficult to reconcile their experiences with the ideals they learned about in school. For this reason, faculty have to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of community-based learning. They must also be mindful of the impact of privilege on students’ experiences with the communities they engage with.
Capstone projects, also known as senior theses, provide a unique opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge and skills in a final project that is based on a real-world problem or issue. They can take many forms, from research papers to presentations to artistic works like art installations and portfolios. They may be part of a course or offered independently, and they often integrate elements from more systemic school-improvement models or teaching philosophies such as 21st century learning, community-based learning, proficiency-based education, or student-centered learning.
Students working on capstone projects benefit from the chance to test out ideas and explore their interests in a safe space. They can build confidence by launching entrepreneurial ventures, leading impactful campaigns, or championing social justice initiatives, skills they will carry forward into their careers.
The creative nature of these projects, self-selected by students and based on their own interests, can strengthen student motivation to learn, particularly at a time when they are transitioning from high school to college. Additionally, the opportunity to showcase their work at a culminating event hone communication skills, while regular reflection moments foster self-awareness and promote a holistic sense of accomplishment. In addition, incorporating these activities into the fabric of your school’s curriculum will help to align essential components of your global health program and make them readily available for all students, regardless of academic ability or interest.