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Global Health Certificate program celebrates first graduates, welcomes new students

January 15, 2009 By Masarah Van Eyck

Last September, 40 or so students, faculty, and staff gathered in a small conference room of the Health Sciences Learning Center for what Cindy Haq, director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Global Health, called “a very special occasion.”

Now in its third year, the Center for Global Health was matriculating its first cohort of graduates, 11 students and professionals from pharmacy, public health, medicine, nursing and other health-related fields who had enrolled in the Certificate of Global Health pilot project three years ago.

But when Haq began to call out each student’s name, something seemed strange: The majority of the graduates weren’t in the room. Instead, attendees learned as she read aloud student profiles, the students were working in Uganda, Thailand or Ecuador, or were off to another university to continue their studies in global health.

“That’s the problem with global health workers,” Haq laughed. “When they’re this good, they’re usually halfway around the world.”

Turns out, the majority of students in the room were incoming students, and the attending faculty their new advisers.

Shifting from a graduate ceremony to a welcome event, the students and faculty began to introduce themselves. During the next hour or so, they revealed not only their common commitment to supporting sustainable health improvements for populations throughout the world, but also the vast diversity of their interests, professional backgrounds and visions.

One incoming student had recently ended a 34-year stint as an air-quality specialist in the Department of Natural Resources. Another had just returned from the Peace Corps. And yet another was a graduate student in limnology studying aquatic ecosystems and climate change.

“I want to think about health from an ecosystem perspective,” he told the group.

His fellow students articulated equally unique and interdisciplinary interests that included examining HIV/AIDS care in Africa, improving birthing conditions in India and pinpointing the ways in which land use affects a community’s health.

“This is what really sets this program apart,” said Jonathan Patz, a professor of environmental studies and population health and an adviser in the program. “The center really draws upon the strengths of so many excellent schools and colleges across this campus.”

Established in 2005, the Center for Global Health is a joint initiative of the schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Medicine and Public Health, Veterinary Medicine, and the Division of International Studies.

While the center’s interdisciplinary partnerships allow for a synergistic education, its mission is singular: to promote interdisciplinary education, research and partnerships to address health issues that transcend national boundaries.

Pediatrician Jim Conway, also an adviser in the program, seconded Patz’s sentiments from the perspective of a medical practitioner. “Usually when programs say they are interdisciplinary, they mean that pediatricians are working with surgeons!” he joked. “But this is an institution that really ‘gets it’ — [health] is about food, engineering, environment, agriculture …What I’ve realized is that medicine has just got to get over itself! It’s just one of many components to public health.”

Gilles Bousquet, dean of the Division of International Studies, said, “The center is positioned at the crossroads of UW’s world-class expertise in regional issues and health care. We knew it would be a resounding success.”

Complementing their five credits of interdisciplinary coursework, students in the Global Health Certificate program also earn one to five credits gaining hands-on experience at either faculty-led or independent global-health field sites. There, they work with and learn from communities that face complex issues related to sustainable health. Past students have completed field experiences in Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Vietnam and Ethiopia.

One result, says Haq, is that they begin to see the health of each individual in the context of his or her larger network — whether in relation to practical issues such as access to clean water or to their cultural attitudes toward sickness and death.

“[The students] become more attuned to people’s lives in the context of their families and their communities,” she explained.

Connie Kraus, clinical professor of pharmacy, was quick to add that one need not cross an ocean to tap into that network. “I have always acted locally, but I only began to think globally much later in my life,” she told the group.

Now, she says, she both acts locally and gets her “global-health exposure” by working with disadvantaged and immigrant populations at the Wingra clinic located just a few miles from campus.

In fact, several students of the program have also chosen global experiences that led them to serve diverse populations in Madison.

This is good news for one student who, with a background in medical transcription, has returned to school with ambitions of working with women’s health organizations in India. Problem is, she says, she married someone who has no interest in living abroad.

“You don’t need to leave the country to have a global-health experience,” said Lori DiPrete Brown, director of the certificate program and assistant director of the Center of Global Health. “The world is right here in Wisconsin.”

The fifth annual Global Health Symposium will take place from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 1306 Health Sciences Learning Center. “Wisconsin and the World: Working Together for Sustainable Health” will highlight the exciting global health efforts of UW–Madison faculty, staff and students, as well as colleagues from the Madison area and beyond.

Attendance at the symposium is free, open to the public, and no registration is required. For more information, contact Betsy Teigland at 608-262-3862,

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