By Catherine Nicka
In 2008, the first set of medical students at the Penn State College of Medicine began the longitudinal global health effort called the Global Health Scholars Program (GHSP). The program aims to educate students about global health and allows them to have hands on experience in a foreign country. The first set of Global Health Scholars has graduated and moved on to residency programs. I was able to catch up with Sean Boley (SB) and Todd Schneberk (TS), two graduates of the GHSP who went to San Pablo, Ecuador, to ask them how participation in the GHSP has affected them.
Where are you practicing and what specialty did you choose?
SB: I am in St Paul, MN at Regions Hospital doing Emergency Medicine.
TS: I am in Los Angeles County at the University of Southern California Medical Center doing Emergency Medicine.
How did the GHSP affect you as an individual?
SB: The program helped me on a few fronts. First, it definitely made me aware of various issues in global health including the problems with medical tourism, HIV/AIDs in the developing world, tons of things related to health systems development. It also helped me to put the medicine I was learning in Hershey into perspective as well as helped me to learn about how medicine is practiced in resource poor areas (and how to perhaps, bring some of those creative techniques back here).
TS: I think it taught me an immense amount about the actual practice of global health work. The idea of global health is often romanticized into something it isn’t. The only way to understand how it really functions is to try to assess the needs of a community and then work to address them working with the resources allotted. It is a difficult science and finding ways to sustainably better the health of a community takes painstaking work and affords a substantial amount of reverence for guys like Drs. Groh and Fredrick who pull it off with such style.
Did the GHSP influence your career choice?
SB: GHSP definitely got me excited to look towards a specialty that was broad enough that I could be useful in a resource poor area. There are few specialties out there that enable you to see undifferentiated patients, work them up, and then treat them. Emergency allows for that and encourages this one-stop-shop feel that places without doctors or hospitals really need.
TS: It made me realize that in order to pursue careers in global health it helps to have a skill set that can be transferable and useful in under-served settings, as well as a schedule and patient base that doesn’t restrict you from spending time away in these places. From an emergency specific standpoint, I think as gatekeepers, the ER will have a pivotal role in innovative distribution of care for the under-served.
Are you planning on practicing global health in the future?
SB: I would love to practice global health in the future. It all depends on what opportunities are available to me when I graduate. There are some global health fellowships (including one at my current program) that would allow for it.
Do you think that your participation in the GHSP affected your match and is it something that came up during interviews?
SB: My experience with GHSP definitely helped me get into residency. It was brought up at every interview. People always wanted to talk about it and were very interested in the project as it involved research, project development, broadening perspectives (i.e., getting out of the hospital), a volunteer aspect, etc. Programs love stuff like that. I think it showed them a lot about what I was interested in and committed to.
TS: My choice was undoubtedly affected. Looking at it realistically, I realized the maximum amount of time I could spend doing global health projects in residency was probably around 6 months. Therefore, I decided I wanted a program where I didn’t necessarily have to travel to see the types of patients I would see in the developing world. As for how it affected how I matched/interviews, I think it was instrumental in my success. It was the focal point of most of my conversations with my interviewers. This program is novel in the autonomy and ownership it allows students in community assessment and application of their OWN intervention. Not only that, but it is one of the only programs that has a built in longitudinal aspect, where the students can engender trust with the population as well as establish a presence in order augment sustainability. Several faculty at multiple programs mentioned they would like to emulate many parts of the GHSP model and said if I attend their residency they would like me to help enrich their programs.