It’s a big world out there.

Speakers at graduation ceremonies often lead with this theme, and it resonates with students in a variety of ways. Some hear the message and set their sights on conquering the world. Others think about how they might shape it and make a positive impact.

MeNore Lake is among the students at the University of Louisville with ambitions of contributing to a better world. Guided by strong mentors and supported by a rigorous curriculum, Lake and fellow students on the Distinction in Global Health (DIGH) track at UofL’s School of Medicine are moving steadily toward their goals.

Starting out on the journey

Students apply for the DIGH track in their first year of medical school. The curriculum goes above and beyond the general education for medical students and includes monthly lectures, a scholarly project and, often, study abroad. Participation in the program opens multiple avenues for cultural discovery and academic growth. Among other things, students learn how to use translators, identify regional pathogens and work with people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Variety of global learning opportunities

The journey on the DIGH track is different for each student. Lake came to UofL from the University of Kentucky, where she earned an undergraduate degree in International Studies. She credits her upbringing for fostering her interest in international affairs. She was born in America, but her family is from Ethiopia. As a child, she had the opportunity to experience the country where her family once lived, and global news topics were part of daily conversations at the dinner table. 

When it came time to decide on a medical school to attend, Lake looked to UofL because of its DIGH program. For Lake, a strength of the DIGH track is that it “adds a dimension to the medical school experience that progresses students toward becoming thoughtful and culturally aware leaders in their chosen health care fields.”

Now a third-year student, Lake is well on course to becoming a future leader as an internal medicine physician. At the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, she worked with her professors and peers to form an interdisciplinary awareness initiative to help students sort out facts from the massive amount of misinformation that was spreading at the time. As a follow-up to this effort, she helped organize a fundraiser to donate needed supplies to the region.

More recently, Lake founded the Kentucky Refugee Outreach Program with the support of Bethany Hodge, MD, MPH, director of the DIGH program and Global Education Office (GEO), and fellow students Margaret Means and Kimberly Okafor. The program aims to help refugees transition to life in Louisville and includes mental and medical health orientation materials developed by Lake’s team in collaboration with Catholic Charities of Louisville.

Dr. Hodge and medical students during a service learning trip to Tanzania.
Dr. Hodge and medical students during a service learning trip to Tanzania.

In June 2016, Lake’s group traveled to New York to present their refugee education plan at the 6th Annual North American Refugee Health Conference. They are currently working to expand the program by involving students from the School of Nursing and School of Public Health and Information Sciences, along with trained professionals within the Louisville medical community.

Hodge noted that while students like Lake are exceptional, their ability to view the world through a global lens isn’t necessarily unusual. The lens for most students is the screen on a mobile device or smartphone, which connects them to the broader world via social media. Hodge also points out a lot of students travel extensively prior to beginning medical school.

Significant milestones reached

The DIGH track for medical students was started by Hodge and former UofL faculty member William Allen, Jr, MD, DTM&H, three years ago in response to student interest in global health. There are currently 18 students on the track. Six new students have been added in 2016, and these students were chosen from a pool of more than 30 applicants, or about one fourth of the medical school class.

The Global Education Office also offers programs for students who are not on the DIGH track. Hodge has 40 students traveling this summer to five different countries to enrich their learning experiences. Hodge also reported that 24 international visiting students have completed electives at the School of Medicine over the past year.

Path for students in pediatric medicine

The Department of Pediatrics also has a Global Health Certificate program, one that’s designed for pediatric residents. Like the School of Medicine DIGH track, this program offers training and development in an increasingly critical area
of medicine.

George Rodgers, MD, PhD, Humana Foundation Chair in International Pediatrics, points out that Louisville is now a global society, due in large part to its rising number of refugees and immigrants. Such population shifts are happening in cities across the United States, and he added that this is something that can no longer be ignored by universities and the medical community.

According to Rodgers, “No matter where physicians locate their practices, they will be caring for patients from all over the world. For medical professionals starting their careers, he says, “having a background in global education is extraordinarily important,” because physicians will need a unique understanding of the cultural and social circumstances of patients who turn to them for care.

For his part, over the course of his travels with the International Pediatrics program, Rodgers has worked with medical practitioners in at least a dozen developing countries, including those where poverty is widespread. The program, started in 1990 by Humana Chairman Emeritus, David A. Jones, has brought more than 200 foreign doctors and nurses to Louisville to train. The program also sends UofL resident physicians and Louisville medical professionals abroad to act in a teaching capacity.

Beyond the point of success

By developing familiarity with multicultural health issues, and addressing these challenges in Louisville and beyond, students like Lake are helping UofL’s global education programs grow and evolve. More important, they are helping change the world for the better.

It’s a lofty pursuit, but it’s achievable when you have committed and compassionate educators leading the way.              

For more stories from the Summer 2016 issue, visit louisville.edu/uoflmagazine

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Erica Walsh
Erica Walsh is the senior marketing manager in the Office of Communications and Marketing where she manages the UofL Magazine and the President’s Report and contributes to the university’s branding and advertising efforts. Walsh joined UofL in 2014 after previously serving as the public relations specialist at Indiana University Southeast for seven years. Prior to her career in higher education communications, she was a reporter at The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown, Ky.