Global health aims to improve health for individuals around the world in a interdisciplinary fashion. The focus of this approach is to understand emerging health challenges – that are driven by social, cultural, economic and environmental factors – that can contribute to health inequities.

To prepare and educate the next generation of learners, Wake Forest University School of Medicine offers its medical students the opportunity to apply for the Global Health Certificate Program. This longitudinal curriculum certificate program provides students with a better understanding of the interdisciplinary nature, transnational issues, and determinants of global health while also reducing health inequalities in underserved populations locally. The program is led by Avinash K. Shetty, MD, associate dean of the Office of Global Health and professor of pediatrics - infectious diseases.

Elsa Acosta, medical student “The Global Health Certificate Program has provided me with a unique opportunity to dedicate time to my interests in international health care. The seminars cover a wide variety of topics, from fetal-maternal medicine in Rwanda to the care of immigrant populations in the United States.”
– Elsa Katarina Acosta, third-year medical student

Through this program, students are equipped to build a foundation of knowledge that will serve to advocate for and promote innovative approaches to solving complex global health problems so that individuals can be healthy and live productively. Students that participate are provided with faculty-mentored field experiences across the country and abroad. This prepares students with the developmental skills for future work in global health through experiential learning opportunities.

The global health longitudinal curriculum consists of 20 seminars that are taught by faculty from various departments at the School of Medicine and coordinated and implemented by the Office of Global Health. Approximately one seminar per month is planned over a period of 20 months. Visiting international scholars from affiliate sites may also deliver guest lectures. Additionally, students must complete a faculty-mentored scholarly capstone project that integrates aspects of global health that impacts low-and middle-income country populations or underserved populations in the United States. Affiliate faculty in the Office of Global Health have expertise in key global health priority areas ranging from emerging/remerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, environmental health issues to immigrant and refugee health.

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All participants completing the certificate are also required to present their capstone projects in the form of a poster for display at the annual Global Health Symposium.

Thirty-one students are currently enrolled in the program and this past year a total of 66 scholarships/fellowships from endowment funds were awarded to students, residents and faculty. The program has hosted 179 visiting international students, clinicians, educators and researchers from collaborative sites across 35 countries. The Global Health Certificate Program also provides opportunities for international rotations during students’ fourth-year and during the summer between the students’ first and second year.

The Global Health Certificate Program consists of students from varied backgrounds.

From a young age, Elsa Katarina Acosta’s family emphasized the importance of cultural awareness and appreciation. As Cuban exiles, her family often bonded with immigrants from other countries over shared experiences or customs. Acosta, a third-year medical student and Global Health Certificate Program participant, grew up surrounded by people from all over the world, which translated into a lifelong curiosity for other cultures and languages. Acosta speaks five languages which allows her to bridge a gap in understanding cultural knowledge from lived experiences internationally and as the daughter of immigrants.

“Taking the time to understand a patient’s unique circumstances, whether cultural, linguistic, economic or otherwise, enables practitioners to provide the best holistic care,” said Acosta. “I am deeply interested in comparisons and contrasts among healthcare systems and this program has offered me the opportunity to broaden that exposure. Each model has its pros and cons, and studying global health has allowed me to gain a better understanding how I can be the best provider for my patients. Much of this extends beyond the realm of medications and surgeries, into the value of connecting with your patients from a humanistic point of view. My perspective as the daughter of Cuban immigrants and a multilingual practitioner will help foster deeper and more supportive connections with multicultural and underserved patients and their families.”

Through this program, Acosta has also been conducting a research project on the establishment of permanent cleft lip and palate care centers in low- and middle-income countries. This is a collaboration with Christopher Runyan, MD, PhD, associate professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery.