Since 2009, the Office of International Activities has provided critical support to medical students in pursuit of international electives in global health.
by Zach Read
In the past decade, interest in global health has grown exponentially among medical students in the U.S. and Canada. Today, approximately one-third of students participate in an international health elective during medical school.
Four years ago, in response to the increase, the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and the UNC School of Medicine Office of Medical Education collaborated to create the Office of International Activities (OIA), which provides comprehensive pre- and post-rotation support and education to medical students and resident physicians.
“We work hard to take the interest and ideas from medical students and residents and form them into educational, research, and mentoring objectives and ways of learning,” says OIA director Martha Carlough, MD, MPH, associate professor of family medicine. “Our goal is to make sure that the medical learner’s interest in global health is educationally appropriate and as safe and sustainable as possible.”
OIA assistance includes site identification or screening, faculty advising, safety and travel policies, ethics and cross-cultural training, post-trip debriefing, and evacuation insurance, among other critical areas of support. In four years, the OIA has provided support for a wide range of experiences. Students have gathered reproductive health data at UNC Project-Malawi in Lilongwe; worked in a small clinic in Tanzania shadowing local doctors and assisting with lab procedures in minor surgery; and traveled and worked in northern India with a team of medical students and faculty from across the U.S. through the Himalayan Health Exchange.
As medical student and resident physician interest in global health has grown at UNC, so has the OIA’s level of support. To date, the OIA has helped 300 medical students travel to 43 different countries, and along with the Medical Foundation and Student Affairs, it now awards more than $50,000 annually in international health fellowships for individual students and student groups – a more than four-fold increase from the $12,000 provided during the 2009-2010 launch year. Since April 2012, the OIA has helped 40 residents travel to 15 countries.
“We knew the demand was there, but the success of this office in such a short time period is even more than we could have hoped for,” says Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. “This should be a model for how other schools incorporate global medical eduction.”