Sending knowledge across the globe: Visiting faculty from Ghana learn best practices at Penn State College of Medicine

Editor’s note: This story is one in an occasional series highlighting a relationship between Penn State College of Medicine and Mountcrest University College in Ghana.

Mountcrest faculty

Four Mountcrest University College faculty from Ghana are visiting Penn State College of Medicine for professional development. The four are Judith Osae-Larbi, Harriet Abbey, Faustina Oware-Gyekye and Demi Safo.

This has a been a month of firsts for Judith Osae-Larbi – first trip to the United States, first look at where some of the cocoa beans from her native country end up and, most importantly, firsthand experience with a whole new way of teaching.

“We are used to the traditional lecturing method back home. Here we are seeing active learning methods and it is very, very exciting,” said the visiting health psychology teacher, one of four faculty members from MountCrest University College in Ghana visiting Penn State College of Medicine recently.

For Harriet Abbey, who teaches biology at MountCrest, the most exciting thing about the partnership between the two colleges is the opportunity for her students.

“Our students are coming in right from high school so it will be exciting to help them learn these different techniques at a very young age,” she said.

The need for care is great in their area. “We need medical doctors everywhere,” she said.

“Doctors are needed especially in rural areas where the poor and vulnerable are,” added Faustina Oware-Gyekye, a nurse and midwife who was most impressed by mannequins used in the Clinical Simulation Center that simulate the labor and delivery process. “Our students are not exposed to anything like that before they go to clinic and see this.”

The promise of better healthcare for Africans living in the rural areas surrounding Larteh, Ghana is through a partnership with the College of Medicine that has helped open the doors to the country’s first private medical school.

MountCrest University College’s College of Medicine will open in March 2017 and has plans to open a teaching hospital on land donated by the college’s founder, Kwaku Ansa-Asare, within five years.

Located in a rural area of about 50,000 people, the hospital could serve a catchment area of 400,000 or more people.

“I’m excited about how much enthusiasm exists on our campus for this partnership. We’ll be making a great difference in healthcare in an area where the needs are great,” said Dr. Ben Fredrick, director of the Global Health Center at the College of Medicine.

The feeling is mutual.

“We see the Hershey model transforming the healthcare system in Ghana,” said Ansa-Asare. “The contribution is going to be of lasting benefit to the whole of Ghana. The teaching hospital will ensure our future doctors are trained in the very environment in which they will be working. They will come out better equipped to serve the healthcare needs of the country.”

The idea began percolating several years ago when The Hershey Company and Fredrick began exploring opportunities for affecting global health in underserved areas. Much of Hershey’s cocoa supply comes from Ghana.

Fredrick went on an exploratory trip to Ghana and says his “eyes were opened” to the great need there that dovetails perfectly with the college’s mission of service, research and education.

“MountCrest intends to develop an academic health center in that region, which is about two hours from the capital of Ghana. It would be serving people who otherwise would not have access to medical care,” Fredrick said.

This latest trip by the Ghana faculty is one of several trips that have been made back and forth between Penn State College of Medicine and MountCrest faculty since collaboration began. Videoconferencing in between trips has enabled work to advance.

Penn State College of Medicine is helping with faculty development around the areas of community outreach, humanities, active learning methods and research collaboration.

“We have also been working on assessment in building the curriculum – how will we effectively assess the students after they have taken the courses? We are also learning about test-taking methods and active learning methods,” said Demi Safo, who is teaching public health courses at MountCrest. “I am very, very excited. It’s really amazing how the Penn State faculty have stepped up to help us build our medical school from the ground up.”

A big part of the collaboration is centered around developing a six-year medical curriculum for MountCrest that will  include humanistic care focused on patient-physician interaction and how to address grieving, death and loss and ethics – areas that are not traditionally part of African medical care.

That focus is of particular importance to Ansa-Asare, who lost his only son at age 19 to leukemia.

“The attitude of the doctors and nurses was so off-putting that I personally saw they haven’t demonstrated some of the traditions of the medical profession,” he said. “When he died, I took up the challenge and said my contribution toward rewriting the values of our medical practices in Ghana would be to establish a medical school that would train the next generation with a value on humanity.”

The teaching hospital will be named Kwame Ansa-Asare Memorial Hospital, after his son.

Educating the African villagers about medical care can be a challenge unto itself. Many are used to seeking out the care of a “traditional healer,” a person in the community who is considered to have medical powers but has no formal education. When this method fails, people will seek out the nearest hospital or doctor, and consequently, they are often very sick when they arrive for care.

“People come in at extremely high illness levels and, very unlike in the United States, diagnoses must be made without labs or tests but rather by physical presentation. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for our students,” said Dr. Eileen Hennrikus, an internal medicine professor at Penn State College of Medicine and director of educational collaboration with MountCrest School of Medicine. “What students experience here is nothing like U.S. hospital rotations. Here, they must use medical history and physical exam skills and not rely on technology.”

Students encounter tropical medicine as well and even the “regular” illnesses and infections they see in Ghana have progressed to a degree rarely seen in the United States, said Hennrikus, who earlier this year was instrumental in starting what will be an annual conference at Koforidua Regional Hospital in Ghana involving doctors, nurses and healthcare workers from across the region .

As in much of Africa, malaria and HIV are huge health maladies in Ghana. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid are also a challenge.

The partnership also provides a unique opportunity for Penn State faculty and students to observe Ghana’s successful model for integrating public health into medical care, Fredrick said. “In Ghana, they are much better at it than we are in the U.S.,” he said.

While here, the MountCrest faculty members have been doing some presenting of their own, at the Penn State Maternal-Fetal Conference and at Women’s Health Research Day, Hennrikus said.

For the visiting faculty, the warm reception from people across Penn State Health who have offered their expertise and wisdom is a boost of confidence that will travel home with them across the globe.

“We know we have mentors here and exposure to new things that will help us,” Oware-Gyekye said. “It gives us more confidence, looking at Penn State as a model and knowing we also can achieve our goal.”

By Carolyn Kimmel


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