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Nicholas Keaton, Tara Calhoun, Dr. Lisa Hodges and David Windler from the LSU Health Shreveport School of Medicine were among nine students and faculty members who traveled to Kenya on a medical mission trip in February.
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The group spends four weeks in Kenya conducting mobile clinics under the direction of faculty.
A humanitarian effort initiated by medical students five years ago to bring healthcare to rural western Kenya will be a formally sanctioned international health elective at the LSU Health Shreveport School of Medicine. Dr. John Marymont, Interim Dean of the Medical School, said the program will provide an opportunity for students to learn about global health issues and medical care delivery in other countries. “Having an international elective is an asset in recruiting students,” he said. “This is a great addition to the fine curriculum and education offered at the School of Medicine.”
Michael Harper, MD, Chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the school, will direct the program, which he hopes will be the first step in a broader global health program. “It’s in its infancy, but our hope is that we will be able to expand and offer other international opportunities for our students,” he said.
The Global Health Elective was approved by the medical school’s curriculum committee and LSU officials. It is the outgrowth of a program started in 2009 by an LSUHSC-S medical student, Matthew Berniard and his wife, Aimee. They formed a nonprofit called SHIP to stand for Support for Humanitarianism through Intercontinental Projects.
Since the first trip in 2010 by six students, 58 have participated in the program. They organize fundraisers and seek grants to help pay for their own airfare and other costs, including medications to take on the trip. The group spends four weeks in Kenya conducting mobile clinics under the direction of faculty. They work in conjunction with ICODEI/Volunteer Kenya, which assures a safe living environment and provides transportation and translators for the mobile clinics. Prior to the trip, the students are required to do self-study on aspects of culture and medical care and conditions in Kenya and during the trip they will deliver a presentation on a tropical medicine topic and prepare a reflective essay..
In 2014, the group treated 728 patients with conditions ranging from arthritis to typhoid fever. Malaria and fungal conditions are commonly seen, according to Dr. Harper.
Student leaders learned of the program approval this week.
"I think it is wonderful that the school is recognizing that Global Health is important to us as students,” said Tara N. Calhoun, who volunteered for the mission last year. "The Kenya trip was the experience of a lifetime. The students before us who started SHIP had a vision and I'm honored to be a part of furthering that vision. Now students long after us can continue to serve in Africa and get school credit!"
“Forming relationships with and helping to treat the local Kenyans has impacted my life, and has made me look at medicine in the US with a newfound appreciation,” said SHIP president Nick Keaton. “I think it's awesome that our school cares to evaluate and incorporate into its curriculum something that the students feel strongly about.”
The newly-sanctioned elective will be offered to 12 senior medical students, with the first group scheduled to travel to Kenya in February 2015.
“Globalization has opened access to distant regions of the world, exposing enormous disparities in health and the global burden of disease,” Dr. Harper said. “This heightened awareness has captured the interest of a growing generation of health professionals motivated to make a difference across international boundaries. This has led to unprecedented growth in academic programs, with about 100 U.S. medical schools now offering some form of global health education.”