Last month, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) converged at the downtown SF’s Hilton Hotel for an annual conference bringing some of the most innovative and experienced minds in the field of global health. As a student ambassador representing the UC Global Health Institute, an organization that represents all ten of the University of California campuses and their global health initiatives, I had the privilege of meeting and founders of organizations I admire, like Haiti Cardiac Alliance and connecting with faculty, residents, and other students deeply engaged in projects around the world.
Throughout various sessions and presentations, one common question emerged: how much of a positive impact do short-term medical trips have? And less subtly: are we doing more damage with short-term initiatives than good? These are questions that are deeply personal to me, as I have participated in and currently coordinate short-term service work for students in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In attending CUGH, I found a community of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to asking these difficult questions as they design and implement programs in global health. As students looking to participate in global health programs, I believe we have a responsibility to research and understand the impact of the trips we will take. By taking the time to keep ourselves accountable to the work we hope to engage in, we can learn deeper lessons through our experiences abroad.
Interested in understanding the complexities of short-term service work? Here is a list of resources I gathered while at the CUGH on the subject:
- Read “Beyond Medical ‘Missions’ to Impact-Driven Short-Term Experiences in Global Health (STEGHs): Ethical Principles to Optimize Community Benefit and Learner Experience”.
- Join the community engaged in “fair-trade service learning” at org. Join their mailing list to learn about evidence-based initiatives in global health.
- Choose programs with a proven track record of sustainable global health education, approved by UCSF faculty, such as Child Family Health International.
- Seek out mentorship, via faculty or within your school’s global health programs.
- Invest time in your pre-departure training. Chose an organization that provides you with a curriculum to digest before you travel, and includes training on cultural humility and safety. Search for books and articles to read before and during your trip.
- Travel with the right mindset. Take advantage of your role as a student, and show up with the purpose of learning, not teaching or doing.
- Debrief and process upon return. Culture shock is real and often appears without warning.
- Use what you’ve learned. Hopefully your experience was humbling and eye opening to a wider view of the world. Translate these new experiences into your life back at home.
- Join the global health community here at UCSF! Sign up for the UC Global Health Institute’s newsletter. Other sites to visit: