Global Health minor introduces students to the world

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a community health adviser in Peace Corps Madagascar, Bridget Miller, a 2015 Penn State graduate, works at a rural health clinic along with a doctor, nurses and local community health workers.

“I split my time between assisting at the clinic, and working with my peers to lead health sensitizations in surrounding villages,” Miller said. “We encourage health behavior change on issues such as malaria, nutrition, sanitation, and maternal health, as well as provide education on what health resources are available and where to access them."

What led Miller to this experience was the Global Health minor, offered at Penn State through the Department of Biobehavioral Health. The program is open to all Penn State students, although entry is competitive.

The 21-credit minor includes a capstone six-week field-work requirement. Currently, field-work placements are in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, where students work alongside African health care students and have mentorships with African physicians and nurses. 

“While I learned much about health care in foreign countries and what challenges to expect through the Global Health minor courses, it was the field work that taught me the most,” Miller said. “It was the perfect opportunity to not only apply classroom ideas, but to think critically about the health problems that developing nations face. By being paired with local nursing students in Tanzania, I also learned how to work with local counterparts to make the most effective impact possible.”

As part of their field experience, students rotate through various units ranging from community clinics to emergency departments to HIV/AIDs clinics. Students also engage in community health campaigns for diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and other non-communicable diseases. 

“I hope that students will embrace the opportunity the minor gives them to think critically about health issues as they are affected by or affect populations, culture, globalization, politics, economics, societies, policies, laws and people,” said Dana Naughton, director of the Global Health minor.

Typically, students who are successful in the minor have a sustained interest in health, health issues, health care policy and delivery across populations, Naughton said. The program can both refine and expand their interests. Students in this year’s field work cohort are from biobehavioral health, immunology and infectious diseases, biology, kinesiology, science, anthropology, and health policy and administration.

“Students who come into the program with an eye toward becoming physicians may gain a deepened awareness of public health issues as they pertain to global health and subsequently consider graduate programs that are dual medicine and public health,” she said. “Alternatively, some students return from their field work determined to gain additional practical experience and apply to programs such as the Peace Corps.”

Success of the minor is possible through strong partnerships with the University of Thiés in Senegal, University of Limpopo in South Africa, and Muhambili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania.   

Last Updated January 16, 2017