Volume 12, Number 2 September 10, 2004

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College of Medicine boosting international aspects of program

The U of S College of Medicine’s year-and-a-half-old initiative to do more and better international teaching and research has an ambitious overarching goal.

It wants to do nothing less than help to improve health for marginalized people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and at home. And it wants to do that in a spirit of mutual respect and reciprocal learning with the people it works with.

Lori Hanson
Lori Hanson

Lori Hanson, a lecturer in Community Health and Epidemiology who chairs the college’s internationalization advisory committee, admits that’s a tall order.

But she says the goal provides a focus for a growing number of student and faculty activities that aim to, over time, build meaningful international curricula and research programs in the college.

Hanson says while there were a number of ongoing international exchanges and projects in past years, the college’s efforts got new impetus in late-2002 when Dean William Albritton called together all those involved in international initiatives. By early-2003 Hanson’s advisory committee had been established to help co-ordinate things.

“The intent was to get a better handle on what was going on and to increase the visibility and importance of these initiatives for the college,” Hanson says.

She says the first order of business for her committee of about 20 faculty and students was to do a survey of all Medicine faculty, “to identify all the international, inner-city and northern teaching, research or service involvements.”

The results contributed to the creation of a new database that records the many international activities of more than 30 faculty, in at least 26 countries.

The survey also sought to discern what approach the majority of college faculty and students wanted this initiative to adopt, since, as Hanson explains, there are at least three ideologically distinct models for universities to take when trying to internationalize their programs.

The survey asked the college faculty and students whether they favoured the “market”, “liberal” or “social transformation” model – and most respondents opted for the latter, which not only promotes a respectful exchange of knowledge by developed and developing nations, but which also recognizes the commonalities among issues facing marginalized people all over the world.

Among other things, this model supports work to right what the World Health Organization calls the “10/90 gap” – an imbalance of worldwide health research activity, in which only 10 per cent of research funding goes for research on 90 per cent of the world’s health problems.

Hanson says once her committee had assessed current college activity and decided on its approach, it set about supporting a number of immediate activities, including:

  • Launching a global health education series which hosted three lunch-hour lectures last fall and which will sponsor five from September 2004–March 2005 (see first two in Coming Events, Page 10 of this OCN).
  • Awarding of bursaries for five students to travel this summer to India, Nepal and Kenya to volunteer on international health projects.
  • Creation of a handbook and five-module “global health orientation” course to help prepare students in the college for their overseas experiences.
  • Working closely with a College of Medicine student group called Health Everywhere, which promotes progressive community health involvements for students.
  • Internal networking to support internationalization in the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy & Nutrition, and external networking through becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation (SCIC) and the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research.
  • Creating an e-mail listserv for more than 110 people wanting regular information about international health-related events, research and funding opportunities.

Hanson says faculty and student interest in global health education and research is high, but there are challenges to institutionalizing a “global health ethic”– including the fact that the college’s undergraduate medical curriculum doesn’t include international study or exchanges in its required curriculum. There are also structural disincentives which discourage faculty from taking part in global health research.

Nevertheless, “we’ve accomplished quite a bit in a year and a half,” Hanson says.

“People in the college are keen”, and her group is working hard to give them more global health learning and research opportunities.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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