High School students explore global health

For many high school students who aspire to work in health care one day, coming together to talk about global and public health can be a rewarding experience. With their peers, students are able to discuss some challenging topics and engage in scenarios they have never even thought about.

“Opening Doors to the World,” the third annual High School Global Health Day at UW-Madison, introduced over 40 students to the many circumstances that impact health in Wisconsin and across the world. The day was co-sponsored by the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, South Central Wisconsin Area Health Education Center, Partners in Health | Engage, and GlobeMed UW-Madison.

Students participated in several different activities that explored the social, economic, and biological determinants of health care throughout the world.

One activity, titled “The Four Annas”, featured stories and discussions of four girls from different countries. Each girl, named Anna, had separate, yet similar, cultural, economic, political and physical barriers they had to overcome in their respective countries.

“Honestly I wouldn’t have thought about eyeglasses playing a role in global health, but we see over and over how education correlates with outcomes,” says Sarah Wang, an Education Team Leader of PIH Engage-Madison. “In these stories each Anna’s education was always connected back to her ability to see.”

“Education affected all of the girls differently. The girls that had more education tended to have better lives than the girls who weren’t able to have an education.” —Megan Plagenz, Markesan High School student.

For students, these lessons are not only for how they view people from different countries, but they can also be applied to their experiences here in Wisconsin.

“I challenge students to not only think about other countries, but also to think about their own school communities,” says Sweta Shrestha, the education programs associate for the UW-Madison Global Health Institute. “Are there people in your communities who live similar lives but who also have completely different realities?”

IMG_0153A different exercise had students read an article titled Duffle Bag Medicine and discuss the implications of foreign medical aid by college students without medical training.

“It kind of makes me question how a trip like this really works,” says Alanna Phillips, an Oregon High School student. “What are the rules or guidelines in place so you aren’t misinforming people if you aren’t certified to do this type of work?”

Medical and non-medical students alike must think about their role in a different country. Power, sustainability and cultural competency are really important concepts for anyone who travels, says Mackenzie Andropolis, co-president of GlobeMed at UW-Madison.

“If you were to travel to another country, you don’t necessarily have to be handing out pills and vaccines to help them. You can also actually help them by taking an interest in individual people, respecting their culture, and leaving the country with people feeling more empowered.”—Alana Phillips, Oregon High School

Students are asked to think about the power and privilege they unknowingly carry with them to other countries and reflect on it when helping others, says Shrestha.

“When students are trying to decide on a trip, I always ask them ‘Can you do this in your own community?'” says Shrestha. “If you aren’t certified to do it here, what makes you certified to do it there?”

Most importantly, Global Health Day shows students that global health includes Wisconsin, and they can be part of the conversation in their high schools.

“More than anything, I don’t want students to think of global health as somewhere else,” says Shrestha. “Global health includes everyone from your own home to someone thousands of miles away.”

“Today opened my eyes to a lot of different things and that means a lot to me,” said one student. “I learned a lot about global and local health as well as college life.”