New Study Challenges Assumptions About Impact of Students During Global Health Experiences

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Students from colleges and graduate programs in the US are increasingly taking part in international experiences, particularly in poorer countries (collectively called the “Global South”). Often these programs place students under the pretenses students improve the health of community members.  Little research has been done to support this assumption and evaluate if students do impact health.  In addition, many critics of such programs point out that students have limited expertise and a different frame of reference. This, they purport, potentially limits their efficacy to make major inroads in health status of the host community, or even worse is potentially dangerous for patients.  As Global Health education thought leader and Executive Director of Child Family Health International (CFHI), Dr. Jessica Evert, comments, “when we land in a community very different from our own and we do not yet have expertise in professional skills or teaching, we risk patting ourselves on the back for an impact we aren’t having or having very short-term impacts that are not sustained.”

Tiffany Kung, a Stanford University student researcher, evaluates these assumptions and characterizes the impacts that students from the US and other wealthy countries have on communities in the Global South.  The study was conducted in collaboration with the non-profit Child Family Health International, a provider of community-based Global Health Education Programs for trainees and institutions. Published in the journalMedical Education, Kung’s work reveals community members do not remark on direct impacts to the health of patients or the population as a result of receiving international students on short-term global health experiences. However, hosts noted other positive impacts.