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This summer marks return of Global Health Exchange Program at Penn State College of Medicine

Hershey campus welcomed largest cohort of international, Penn State students

After a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State College of Medicine resumed its Global Health Exchange Program (GHEP) in July. The class, comprised of two Penn Staters and 16 international students, recently wrapped up its three-week training program in Hershey.

The immersive program, embedded in Penn State’s Master of Public Health (MPH) and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) graduate programs, is designed to give participants a comprehensive view of health through an intercultural learning experience. This year’s group of students come from various backgrounds and are pursuing degrees related to medicine, public health, nutrition and health care management.

“Our program is responsible for modeling best practices for our students, teaching the importance of equity and ethics in global health partnerships. This kind of mutual engagement among institutions, educators and learners can result in powerfully important global dialogue,” said Julie Lentes, senior instructor and manager of Public Health Sciences’ Global Health Program.

A large group of Penn Staters and international students in the Global Health Exchange Program volunteer at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, helping to pack food boxes.

Penn Staters and international students in the Global Health Exchange Program volunteer at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, helping to pack food boxes.

Penn State students, along with students from Taiwan, Grenada, Nepal, Ecuador, Brazil, China and Bahrain, completed the summer program. Through their studies, they gained insight on global health topics, including social determinants of health, disease prevention, medical-legal issues, One Health and emergency preparedness.

“The wealth of knowledge and experiences that each person brings from different corners of the globe make for very rich and engaging learning experiences,” said N. Benjamin Fredrick, MD, professor of family and community medicine and director of the Global Health Center. “I always enjoy interacting with the participants.”

As part of the three-credit colloquium, students attended faculty lectures, participated in discussions, and visited various locations and governmental sites, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania General Assembly. For their final projects, students compared health challenges in the U.S. to those in other countries and presented possible solutions.

“After we put the program on hold for three years because of the pandemic, GHEP 2023 returned to the Hershey campus stronger than ever. This year, GHEP carried a special meaning, and participants felt it, too, that public health and global health are in fact inseparable and that culture and health are indeed intertwined,” said Wenke Hwang, PhD, associate professor of public health sciences. “I am very thankful for our leading faculty, Julie Lentes, along with many staff, faculty and guest speakers who make the program a great success.”

For several of the international students, this was a unique opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of students.

“Being able to see how different professional fields connect to human health has made my judgment better, as an aspiring physician, to look at something holistically rather than separately,” said Alexandra Bascombe from Grenada.

For others, the program offered a chance to explore the nuances of different health care systems.

“I think my biggest take away is just interacting with all people from all around the world and knowing what the health system is like in each country and how differently we approach the same issue,” said Li-Han Lan from Taiwan. “That really brings new perspectives and insights for me to the medical system.”

Daniel George, PhD, professor of public health sciences and humanities, stands outside in a garden while he leads the Global Health Exchange Program group on a tour of the community garden on the campus of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Daniel George, PhD, left, professor of public health sciences and humanities, leads the Global Health Exchange Program group on a tour of the community garden on the campus of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The program, which originally launched in 2016 as a collaboration between Penn State and international academic institutions, is hosted by the Department of Public Health Sciences, in partnership with the College of Medicine’s Global Health Center and the Global Health Minor, an undergraduate program within the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) in the College of Health and Human Development.

The course is intended to: 1) build and strengthen students’ public health practice knowledge, 2) increase students’ comprehension of the field of public health both globally and locally, and 3) offer cultural experiences.

Additionally, the Global Health Minor has worked with host partners, faculty and students in Africa and Latin America since it began over a decade ago.

“As those of us in global health education (GHE) understand, each year thousands of U.S. undergraduates and graduates travel to under-resourced countries where they learn from host-country medical and public health experts, educators, students, patients and others,” shared Thomas Gould, MD, head of BBH, and Dana Naughton, MD, director of the minor. “The experience is often described by our students as transformative and unquestionably deepens their understanding of global health issues and solutions in innumerable ways. We also know that under-resourced medical and allied health students from these host settings are not likely to afford such transformative global educational experiences for themselves. We believe deeply that reciprocity in GHE matters and are committed and honored to support students’ participation in Hershey’s GHEP.”

“This was a fantastic year for the GHEP, which was filled with incredible moments of learning and collaboration,” added Kristin Sznajder, PhD, assistant professor and associate director of international initiatives. “We are inspired by our trainees’ passion for global health and are proud to be a part of their career journey.”

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