As we have witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, diseases and the need to prevent and treat them transcend national boundaries. As global citizens, we can all make a difference by addressing the underlying social, economic, and environmental determinants that have worldwide health consequences. To prepare students to serve as such citizens—in medicine and other fields—colleges and universities must enrich all areas of the education they provide with a global learning perspective along with engagement in research and service.
In my second year as an Honors College student at Florida International University (FIU), I joined the Global Learning Medallion program, which seeks to make students globally aware and engaged. In the program’s two-semester course on public health, we identified major local, national, and international challenges to health care, such as access to equitable medical care and proper nutrition and sanitation. I was surprised to learn how the social determinants of health, such as one’s education and social support network, affect not only one’s own health but also the health of the community. We also learned about the growing prevalence of childhood obesity worldwide, and I was stunned by the higher rate of childhood obesity among Hispanic and African American children at local elementary schools in South Florida.
Together with an interdisciplinary team of students, I planned a series of interactive healthy eating and exercise seminars for local children in need. In our “Staying Active and Healthy” seminar, children learned to read a food label, conducted an experiment to test the greasiness of two types of potato chips to learn about healthy eating habits, and even planned out an exercise schedule and did a guided aerobic workout. This experience taught me about the difficulties and rewards of implementing a program to improve the well-being of my community.
To enhance my research experience, I joined a research lab team studying antimicrobial resistance to presently available antibiotics, which has endangered the ability to prevent and treat a wide variety of infections. I worked with the lab team to research possible alternatives to current antibiotics, collaborating with people from different backgrounds and fields of study to work toward a shared goal. Looking at research through a comprehensive perspective allowed me to identify other dimensions of disease, such as culture and beliefs, that have a significant role in global health.
I learned that global health research should focus on closing the gap of knowledge between developed and developing countries to ultimately guide policy and evidence-based interventions. Likewise, my investment in global learning has taught me that understanding different cultures and their perceptions of disease is key to implementing programs to solve global health issues. Now that I am a student at FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, I am confident that my medical education will further enhance my understanding of how I can transform the health of patients around the world.
Image credit: Lydia Bozzo