The importance of field courses – perspectives from Global Health students

The importance of field courses – perspectives from Global Health students

Devin Walsh-Felz interviewing a Village Health Team member in Uganda.

Spicy curry and malaria-bearing mosquitoes are a few signs that students might be far from home, but they are not the only ones for University of Wisconsin-Madison students participating in global health field courses. Most importantly, field courses give students opportunities to listen and learn from perspectives that are different from their own.

Since 2011, 656 students have earned the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health. Another 146 students have earned the Graduate/Professional/Capstone Certificate. The global health certificate is comparable to minors offered at other universities. These certificates introduce students to preventative, population-level, interdisciplinary approaches to health promotion around the world. As a part of the certificate’s requirements, all undergraduate and graduate students must complete a field experience.

Recently National Pubic Radio in a story, “How They Spent Their Global Summer Vacation,” asked global health students for reflections and advice from their global health experiences. Global health students at UW-Madison weighed in, reflecting on their trips and giving advice for other students.


Devin Walsh-Felz, right, joins colleagues at the  Baylor-Uganda Fort Portal office after presenting findings from the Baylor-Uganda team. Also shown, from left, Rogers Rubahimbya, Priya Pathak and  Ronald Kizito.

Who: Devin Walsh-Felz

Education: Second year medical student at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. UW-Madison undergraduate degree with a major in biology and Certificate in Global Health.

Where: Walsh-Felz’s undergraduate global health experience took her to Uganda, which convinced her to return during medical school. She completed an internship with Baylor-Uganda, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative. As an intern she traveled to clinics to collect data, attended meetings with local leaders and delivered reporting tools to clinics. She and classmate Priya Pathak also carried out an independent project focused on newborn care. A large part of community-based care in Uganda is accomplished by Village Health Teams (VHTs) – these are community volunteers who are trained to provide health education and appropriate referrals, especially in rural villages. The study she completed assessed newborn care knowledge of VHT’s and the supervisors who train them.

Local to Global Connection: “One of the struggles I witness in our health care system today is a large amount of waste, as well as tremendous disparities. I believe that part of the solution to some of these problems involves increasing public health initiatives, focusing on preventative care and critically examining access to care. These were also some of the priorities of the organizations I was working with in Uganda. In Uganda, many of the health care challenges arose from limited resources and interrelated limited access. Creative evidence-based solutions are crucial both at home and abroad in order to increase healthcare access, efficiency and effectiveness.

Tweets of Advice: “Work hard to prepare and prepare to be flexible. Understand your expectations and examine your assumptions.”

“Food is an incredible unifying force. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, learn about local food – you will find that you are learning so much more.”


Who: Michaela Brause

Brause and her UW field course group at Enga le Enga, a community center in Shashamene, Ethiopia.

Education: Undergraduate student studying Community and Nonprofit Leadership with Certificates in Global Health and Environmental Studies.

Where: She traveled to Ethiopia during December 2015 with the field course titled “Biodiversity, Food Systems and Health in Ethiopia.” Throughout her trip, she was able to meet with professionals, community members, non-governmental organizations and students who focused on climate change, agricultural systems, economic opportunity, health care provision and nutrition. Brause and the other field course students facilitated workshops with diverse local groups about food systems and health concerns in their communities, providing empowerment strategies for them to use to make local changes.

Local to Global Connection: “During my global health experience, I truly got to experience community building. We were able to learn how environmental, social, economic, political, agricultural and spiritual themes all influence how we see health. We got to facilitate conversations where elders, children, health professionals and other leaders all came together for the first time to passionately discuss how they can make their community a better place. Coming home, it has made me think about how I can be integrating this same collective passion and action into my daily life. I try to look for opportunities where I can listen and learn from perspectives that are different from my own.”

Tweet of Advice: “This world is filled with some pretty incredible people. Each day, try to step outside of your comfort zone to learn what is important to those who are different from you.”



Nina, left, with her host mom, Kanthi, in Sri Lanka.

Who: Nina Rembert

Education: UW-Madison 2014 graduate, double major in International Studies and Environmental Studies with a Certificate in Global Health.

Where: Sri Lanka during the summer of 2014. Her program focused on health disparities in rural and urban areas in Sri Lanka. Her five weeks took her throughout the country,  visiting hospitals in Colombo, interacting with local professors and community members, and discussing how the various landscapes throughout the country influence health and public health policy.

Personal Reflection: “I feel like a lot of people from other countries are familiar with the image of white American students, but many aren’t as familiar with seeing black students. At first locals didn’t really know if I was American, but once they understood that I was from the United States, they had a lot of questions for me that weren’t really applicable to the white students in my group. This experience made me think about my own identity. It also developed my group members to think critically about race, and it brought up a lot of conversations throughout the trip about caste, color and opinions on what an ‘American’ is.”

Tweet of Advice: Make sure to write down every detail of your time abroad. You will remember all the big events, but what is really special is remembering all the little things like playing board games with your host brother, or tea time with your professor.

Eric Friestrom celebrating with a local student after helping construct a new school building in Nepal.

Who: Eric Friestrom

Education: A current graduate student in the Doctor of Pharmacy program at UW-Madison. As an undergraduate at UW-Madison, Friestrom majored in Biochemistry with a certificate in Global Health.

Where: He traveled to Nepal as an undergrad with the “UW Global Health Community Health and Health Disparity” field course. Throughout the course he was able to learn about the opportunities and barriers to health and wellness in both rural and urban Nepal.

Local to Global Connection: “This experience really made me take a step back from my own life and view things on a larger scale. Having been raised in a small rural town in Wisconsin, I really didn’t have any perception of what other places around the world would even be like. Initially, I thought my experience would simply allow me to see another part of the world, but once I arrived this quickly changed into developing deeper personal connections with places and the people I met. My experience in Nepal taught me how to work with other people from different cultures towards a common goal.”

Tweet of Advice:
“Global health trips forever change your perception of the cultures around you!”



Daniel Desautels traveled to Mexico City for his field course experience.

Who: Daniel Desautels

Education: Desautels is an undergraduate student studying Microbiology and Life Sciences Communication with a certificate in Global Health.

Where: He traveled to Mexico City during the summer of 2014 with the  “Linking Agriculture and Nutrition in Mexico” field course. The course was based at The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center known as CIMMYT. Throughout his week in Mexico City, Desautels was able to discuss social and cultural aspects of nutrition and food with scientists, nutritionists and family farmers.

Personal Reflection: “My experience in Mexico has made me much more aware of how culture affects every aspect of our lives, especially nutrition and health. Cultures and customs surrounding food, especially corn products, are strong in Mexico and slow to change. Understanding health within its cultural context and global context is especially important in influencing health in a target population.”

Tweet of Advice: “Global health is linked to almost any study or profession you can think of, you just need to go out into the world and figure out how.”


By Olivia Riedel/October 29, 2015