Global Health Students Head Overseas for Practicum
Uganda, Ecuador, South Africa—these are just a few of the locations where students in the Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH) program at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies headed this spring to complete the program’s practicum requirement before graduating.
The practicum is the crucial final component of the multidisciplinary MSGH program, which prepares students who are clinicians, researchers, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit administrators and other roles to enter the booming global healthcare field, a field dedicated to improving healthcare in critically underserved and challenging settings.
The practicum is co-taught by faculty members Dr. Ashti Doobay-Persaud and Dr. Shannon Galvin. Dr. Doobay-Persaud and Dr. Galvin draw from an existing partnership with Child Family Health International (CFHI — a nonprofit, international non-governmental organization) to place students in global health immersion projects with the goals of student learning, supporting a partner’s needs, and supporting students’ own partnerships.
“The aim of the practicum isn’t primarily research,” says Doobay-Persaud, “But it allows students an initial foray into the field and a chance to experience a ‘mini’ version of some of the work that’s done in global healthcare.”
In some cases, students who already have an established, long-term professional relationship with a partner —and have deep research skills — can complete a more traditional research project. The key is ensuring that the student has built trust with the partner; typically this is a relationship that develops over years, if not decades.
How it Works
Over four quarters, students prepare by working to identify a project, assess their own skills, work through the details (work plan, budget, timeline) and submit a proposal of what they hope to deliver. If accepted, the student travels to the location and implements the project over a four-week period.
Current MSGH practicum students will be working on literature reviews, ethnographies, and data analysis on nutrition and birth attendance. Students will be relying on their native and existing professional skills like writing and project management as well as new concepts learned in the practicum course—cultural sensitivity and good partnership and collaboration skills.
“What’s key is for students to act not just as observers, but also to add real value in a culturally sensitive way,” says Doobay-Persaud. “In fact, ‘do no harm’ is our guiding philosophy. Students need to help on the ground, not add to the program’s burdens. They have to remember that they are guests, that they’re likely taking more than they’re giving, and that they need to listen and collaborate.”
The Value for Students
The practicum provides students with a priceless culminating experience: a taste of what global healthcare is really like and insights on how to make it valuable for those most in need. They also learn how to apply good partner skills — even when culture, technology, and goals differ.
“Many students encounter severe poverty and inequity and deep cultural differences for the first time,” says Doobay-Persaud. “They learn to respond in an appropriate way that doesn’t undermine dignity. The practicum provides an authentic space to apply, synthesize and evaluate what they’ve learned in the program.”
Article by Linda Behzad