Impacts, Learner Diversity, and Curricular Framework of a Virtual Global Health Elective Catalyzed by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Impacts, Learner Diversity, and Curricular Framework of a Virtual Global Health Elective Catalyzed by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors: Maria Alonso Luaces, Michelle S. Cochran, Sarah Finocchario-Kessler, Kimberly Connelly, Barbara Polivka, Robin Young, Geoffrey Anguyo, Charles Nwobu, Jessica Evert. Published in the The Annals of Global Health highlighting CFHI’s virtual global health electives’ role in enhancing competencies, revealing a 40-fold surge in international participation compared to pre-pandemic in-person electives, while urging further research for validation and emphasizing the need for inclusivity enhancements within virtual frameworks.

Background: Place-based international electives that build global health competencies have existed for decades. However, these electives require travel and are infeasible for many trainees around the world, particularly those with insufficient financial resources, logistical complexities, or visa limitations. The emergence of virtual approaches to global health electives, catalyzed by the travel pause related to the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitates the exploration of learner impacts, participant diversity, and curricular frameworks. Child Family Health International (CFHI), a non-profit global health education organization that partners with universities to expand immersive educational offerings, launched a virtual global health elective in 2021. The elective drew on faculty from Bolivia, Ecuador, Ghana, Mexico, the Philippines, Uganda, and the United States.

Objective: This study aimed to describe a newly developed virtual global health elective curriculum and evaluate the demographics of and impacts on trainee participants.

Methods: Eighty-two trainees who were enrolled in the virtual global health elective from January to May 2021 completed both 1) pre- and post-elective self-assessments of domains of competency mapped to the elective curriculum and 2) free text responses to standardized questions. Data were analyzed through descriptive statistical analysis, paired t-testing, and qualitative thematic analysis.

Findings: The virtual global health elective had 40% of its participants hail from countries other than the United States. Self-reported competency in global health broadly, planetary health, low resource clinical reasoning, and overall composite competency significantly increased. Qualitative analysis revealed learner development in health systems, social determinants of health, critical thinking, planetary health, cultural humility, and professional practice.

Conclusion: Virtual global health electives effectively develop key competencies in global health. This virtual elective had a 40-fold increase in the proportion of trainees from outside the United States, compared to pre-pandemic place-based electives. The virtual platform facilitates accessibility for learners from a variety of health professions and a wide range of geographic and socioeconomic environments. Further research is needed to confirm and expand on self-reported data, and to pursue approaches to greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in virtual frameworks.

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