Kayla Dittberner wants to be a surgical technician. A senior at Watertown High School, Dittberner learned about global health at the first Global Health Institute Training Workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It made me realize what’s really going on and how I can help,” Dittberner says.
Seventeen students from small towns in south central Wisconsin attended the high school public health day Saturday, March 8, along with four teachers and six GlobeMed students who acted as mentors for the day. UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute (GHI) and GlobeMed and the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) organized the event.
The workshop exposed students interested in health and healthcare as a career to the broader field of global public health. The goal was to show the implications of actions in a larger context and to begin discussions about disparities, inequality and steps to rectify the problems.
“Global health is an interesting field,” Sara Kelm says. “There’s a lot you can do with it. High school students don’t necessarily know what you can do with it besides just being a doctor or working directly with medicine.”
Kelm is a UW-Madison senior majoring in biology and psychology and a two-year member of GlobeMed. She volunteered to lead discussions with a small group of students because she wanted to give high school students the resources and exposure to global health issues that they likely don’t have in their communities.
Students from rural areas may be able to bring insight to addressing needs in rural areas in other countries, says Sweta Shrestha, GHI education programs associate. “The Global Health Institute defines global as local and international, therefore the inclusion of rural students and their lived experience is essential to the complete picture of global health,” she says. “The program allows rural students to view health in a holistic manner and realize how different fields can and should work together to build a better world.”
During the half-day program, students read four parallel stories set in high-income, middle-income, low-income and collapsed economies four different countries, focusing on the health disparities and how lived experiences vary depending on place, situations and access to services. They discussed how safety, socioeconomic status and politics can all affect health care and how there are nuances even within each community – the world is not easily split into high income and poor.
The activity was valuable because it helped students realize how these disparities could affect their own community, says Christina Patrin, a science teacher from Adams-Friendship High School. She hopes some of her students will come back and help Adams-Friendship after college, as it is a rural area with a low socioeconomic status.
The students also discussed the ethics of volunteering abroad and thought critically about engaged learning and culturally and ethnically appropriate service. When students were asked to stand on opposite sides of the room if they agreed or disagreed with a statement, not a single high school student stepped forward to agree with the statement, “I have volunteered abroad.” All crossed the room at the statement, “I want to volunteer abroad.”
The program was designed for high school students, especially from rural communities who wouldn’t have the resources to learn about global health, says Wendy Hinz, a health career education consultant with the south central Wisconsin chapter of AHEC. She wanted to spread the word about how there are so many different ways of getting involved with public health. It’s not just being a doctor in a clinic: It’s engineering sustainable water systems, educating people about hygienic food practices and advocating for low-income groups.
“It doesn’t even have to mean going over to India. You can work in your community,” Hinz says. She hopes the event will be an annual one, with the potential for more schools to attend. “They took the time out of their Saturday to learn about global health,” she says. “We can give them the resources to do something about their passion.”
The Global Health Institute, supported by public and private funds, is dedicated to improving health today and tomorrow by addressing the multi-layered causes of disease. GHI fosters collaborations that strengthen health care and health systems and encourage the sustainable use of global resources, restore and conserve the ecosystem and address and reverse the causes of climate change.
For more information or to learn how you can become part of the GHI community, visit ghi.wisc.edu.
By Sara Schumacher/ March 16, 2014