Bruce, a second-year Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Global Health Concentration MPH student, received a MS/MPH scholarship. This scholarship helped to fund his practicum in Gabon during the summer of 2014. Bruce partnering with a local NGO, VIH/SIDA et Espoir, to develop and implement a survey study on HIV stigma and HIV testing in Gabon. In addition to Bruce also took French classes and volunteered with OSPAC (L’oevre de Sante Primaire de L’Alliance Chretienne), a locally-run mobile clinic which provides health education and clinical care to remote villages.
What about the Global Health Concentration at UIC made its greatest impact on you and how did it prepare you for a global practicum?
The Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS (EPID 409) was a great course which gave me a solid foundation in understanding HIV and current HIV interventions.
What was the most valuable thing you learned through your global professional experience?
Be humble when interacting with other cultures. It is impossible to make an impact in a foreign context without first learning how to think and live like those you are trying to reach.
How did this experience prepare you for work in public health?
There is no better way to learn than through experience. As a result of my trip, I am much more confident that I can lead a public health intervention and understand how public health interventions should be modified based on the cultural context of the intervention.
How did your perspectives or worldview change as a result of this experience?
As Americans, I think many of us believe the myth that the developing world needs our help. While in Gabon, I witnessed Gabonese nationals organizing together to make a tremendous impact in their community. I observed pharmacies, clinics, a diagnostic lab, and an orphanage all being operated with little to no western involvement. Further, local churches have partnered together to provide medical care, job training, and supplies such as wheelchairs and glasses to the disadvantaged. I was struck by the willingness of the local leaders to sacrificially assist those in need. The Gabonese are definitely concerned for their fellow nationals, and they are making a difference.
In what way did this experience enhance or change your career goals?
Performing my practicum in Gabon confirmed for me that I would enjoy a career in global health. Specifically, I would like to work in some capacity to equip and empower local NGOs providing public health and medical services to their fellow nationals.
What advice would you give to current global health students?
Plan ahead. It was a miracle that I was able to go on this trip given the number of obstacles I had to overcome. Finding the ideal NGO to work with, receiving ethics approval from a foreign IRB, and getting my visa were some of the many things which took much longer than I originally anticipated.