In January, 24 students from York University’s Global Health Undergraduate Program – the only one of its kind in Canada – headed to 20 different health-based organizations across Toronto and the world.
Between January and April 2018, students in the first graduating cohort of York University’s Global Health program could be found completing their Integrated Global Health practicum anywhere from nearby Jane and Finch, all the way to Colombo, Sri Lanka and London, U.K.
Students applied their global health skills and knowledge in a variety of settings, including with researchers in the Faculty of Health, community health centres, hospitals, NGOs, and multilateral organizations.
To subsidize their travel, students who participated in international practicums received a York International Mobility Award (YIMA) from York International.
Global Health Program prepares the next generation of health leaders
Established in 2014, the interdisciplinary Global Health Program focuses on preparing the next generation of health leaders with the knowledge and skills to improve health for people worldwide by helping to create conditions that allow for greater health equity.
Program Coordinator Beryl Pilkington cites the course “Agents of Change in a Global World” as one of several courses that prepare students to be leaders.
In the specialized honours program, students focus on one of four program streams: Global Health Policy, Management and Systems; Global Health Promotion and Disease Prevention; Global eHealth; and Global Health and Environment. The practicum in the final year of study is an opportunity for students to engage in experiential education by applying their knowledge at a partner organization that matches their stream and interest in global health.
“Pre-departure workshops focus on preparation for students’ engagement within communities, local and international, with specific emphasis on cultural competency and global citizenship,” said Practicum Course Director, Lesley Beagrie.
During the practicum, Beagrie also facilitated online seminars where students discussed readings and reflected on their experiences at their practicum sites.
Community partners represent range of global health challenges and solutions
The impressive group of community partners that facilitate these opportunities represents a wide variety of organizations, highlighting the range of responses to global health issues. The practicum aims to establish mutually beneficial partnerships, so students support partner-identified projects and collaboratively develop a learning plan that addresses the identified priorities while also meeting the students’ learning objectives. Whether locally or globally, these partners help students to see the real-life application of global health concepts and theories.
A placement at the nearby Black Creek Community Health Centre allows students to examine the importance of culturally appropriate care and help organize a community event during Black History Month. At the downtown Toronto offices of Doctors without Borders, students engage with global issues by researching and preparing briefing notes such as those developed in the lead up to the recent G7 meetings. Abroad, students at the Jordan Health Aid Society focus on improving health services for the large number of refugees through activities such as designing and implementing surveys for people living in refugee camps. Collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO) offices in Sri Lanka and Jordan offer opportunities to analyze health protocols and policies and to support polio eradication projects.
Upon their return, students present their learning experiences in a poster and facilitate a seminar for their peers where they draw out the intersectionality of global health issues. They can, for example, examine the barriers faced by refugees with disabilities from the perspective of a refugee camp in Jordan, a settlement agency in Toronto, and an international NGO based in the U.K. The ability to engage with diverse perspectives allows students to critically reflect on program theories and concepts and is central to experiential education.
Feedback from community partners has been positive, with many partners praising the students and expressing interest in hosting again.
“[The practicum] was an excellent platform for mentoring future leaders in health and learning their perspectives,” said Olivia Corazon Nieveras at the World Health Organization in Sri Lanka. “It is a privilege to show how WHO is working to transform the health and well-being of people, and at the same time, inspiring possibilities for a public health career among students.”
Practicum opens doors to future opportunities
“On return, students recognize the specific skills and knowledge they have acquired, the values and attitudes that may have changed, and how these new experiences can be included as a key component of their professional development and resumes,” said Beagrie.
For several students, the practicum has already led to opportunities like contributions to publications and employment offers.
“It has provided me the first-hand experience employers look for that distinguishes me from others who have not been as lucky to partake in this kind of defining experience,” said student Andre Moura, who completed his practicum at Las Nubes, York’s EcoCampus in Costa Rica.
It is evident from this first cohort of students that no matter the practicum setting, students return with perspectives that raise new questions and experiences that broaden understanding of global health.
Story by Anda Petro, experiential education coordinator