Global Health Volunteers: Educating for Change

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 21, 2015

In This Article

Leveraging Education to Improve Global Health Outcomes

If anything positive has come out of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, it has been focusing the world's attention on the dire state of healthcare in many African countries. Volunteer healthcare providers from European countries, the United States, and other nations have traveled to West Africa to help manage these outbreaks, but their assistance is temporary, and when the Ebola outbreak has been stemmed, the healthcare systems in these countries will continue to suffer from a severe shortage of healthcare workers, infrastructure, and resources.

Everyone knows the old proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." This saying is often repeated for a good reason—it makes sense. It is about the power of education to make lasting change. Using a modern-day example, highly trained physicians, nurses, and midwives can go to countries facing critical shortages of healthcare personnel and not only provide direct healthcare, they can do so while training local healthcare providers, which expands the pool of current and future doctors and nurses, exponentially increasing the number of citizens who will have access to care today and tomorrow.

This is more or less the idea behind Seed Global Health (formerly the Global Health Service Corps), a nonprofit organization that strives to build a world with greater health equity by working with partner countries to meet their long-term healthcare human resource and professional needs. To carry out its mission, Seed's flagship partnership is with the Peace Corps and US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in a novel public-private program called the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP).

The GHSP program recruits US doctors and nurses to serve as volunteer educators in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda, where they work alongside local faculty at medical and nursing institutions to teach best practice standards to students, house staff, and educators. Training a class of 10 physicians or nurses leads to 10 new teachers who can each train another 10 students, and so on. It's a "force multiplier" effect that builds capacity in human resources. The program's focus is on education and training in alignment with the needs of the partner country. For some volunteers, this translates primarily to classroom instruction; for others, it is mostly teaching on wards and in the clinical setting.

GHSP volunteers represent the entire health professional continuum, from those who recently completed their medical residencies to midcareer and senior medical and nursing educators and even retired healthcare professionals. Beginning in July 2013, physicians and nurses were deployed to serve as clinical faculty at 11 institutions in the program's 3 initial partner countries. In addition to their Peace Corps benefits, GHSP volunteers are eligible for up to $30,000 in debt repayment provided by Seed. Acknowledging that financial obligations, such as medical and/or nursing school loans, are often barriers to service, Seed offers debt repayment stipends to its health professionals. It offset close to $700,000 for 27 out of the 30 inaugural GHSP volunteers in 2013 and has provided $940,000 for its larger second cohort of 42 volunteers, who began their service in July 2014.

Among the first group of volunteers in the GHSP program were Kelly Lippi, a nurse practitioner; Maureen Ries, an obstetrician/gynecologist; and Matthew Robinson, an internal medicine physician. They shared their stories with Medscape, including what they accomplished during their year abroad and how the experience changed them personally. Their stories are both fascinating and inspirational, and they illuminate the signs of progress as well as the ongoing challenges in the healthcare systems in GHSP partner countries, where the baton has been taken up by the second wave of the program's volunteer educators.


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