Notre Dame graduates its third class of global health professionals

Author: Sarah Craig

On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Heath held its third Commencement Exercise, graduating 17 students with the professional degree of Master of Science in Global Heath.

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Bruce Wilkinson, President and CEO of the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) headquartered in New York City, NY, delivered the commencement address reflecting on his 35 years in global health. He shared his experiences in six poignant vignettes that spoke to his lessons learned in the field: 1) Early in his career Wilkinson learned that everyone has something to contribute if you listen; 2) Look for and take advantage of innovative, emerging infrastructures; 3) Know “why” you are working in global health and make it your vocation, not your job; 4) The end is not better health, it is a means to a better life; 5) It is importance to be street smart, take advantage of opportunities, and anticipate your success; and,  6) In the refugee camps that followed the Rwandan genocide, recovery included taking time to allow children to be children and the healing power of human interaction like singing.

Wilkinson’s message ended with the importance of using your Notre Dame education and global health experience to be a healer. He quoted Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, President of the University of Notre Dame, whom he had met with the day before, “‘Notre Dame exists for a world deeply in need of healing,’ now go out into the world and be a healer.” He further quoted a former professor he had at Oxford, “‘don’t die with the music still inside.”’

“Hearing this message from someone whose career has been dedicated to healing and the alleviation of poverty in the developing world and who now leads one of the most successful and effective development organizations in the world was the perfecting ending to a successful year. These words of wisdom will help guide our students, now alumni, toward fulfilling Fr. Sorin’s vision of Notre Dame becoming, ‘one of the most powerful means for good in this country.’ I believe we are taking firm steps in that direction,” stated Katherine Taylor, Director of Operations and Director of Global Health Training.

Taylor continued, “CMMB has been a fantastic partner with our program.   We have had students conducting research at CMMB field sites in Peru and Honduras, fulfilling their degree requirements, while contributing to CMMB projects.”

Degrees were conferred by Notre Dame’s College of Science Dean Greg Crawford who provided the original inspiration for the Master of Science in Global Health program at Notre Dame. Crawford declared, “We are excited to graduate our third class. Notre Dame was well poised and ready to offer this master’s degree first in 2012. The success has been incredible and the demand continues to grow.”

Notre Dame’s Master of Science in Global Health program is 12-month, science-centric academic program that arms students with the knowledge, tools, and experience to be part of the solution to the global health crisis. The rigorous curriculum includes classroom training and experiential learning to prepare students for improving human health around the world, especially in poor and underserved people.

After two semesters of coursework on campus, students complete a six- to eight-week field experience abroad in a resource-poor location. Upon their return from their international immersion, each student submits and presents a capstone project. This scholarly report includes original or literature based research written by which they connect classroom science-centric training, survey research, and mathematical modeling to the field via hands-on experience. 

The Class of 2014 was comprised of nine students with undergraduate degrees from  Notre Dame and eight from other universities around the country including Purdue,  University of New Mexico, and Iowa State. During the year, the 17 students worked in 13 different countries for their field projects. Projects ranged in scope from “An Assessment of Healthcare Access and its Limitations in Ecuador’s District 15D01” to “Transmission Heterogeneities of Onchocerciasis and its Elimination in Uganda.”

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The future is bright for the class of 2014. Many graduates are immediately putting their degrees to work, while others are attending medical school or prestigious graduates programs. Some graduates going to medical school will be close, attending Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and Midwestern University, in the Chicagoland area. They are planning a future in medicine while incorporating their global health experience to a career of healing.

The program is also proud to have a student who will be doing an internship at the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery before gainful employment. The Commission is chaired by John Meara, MD, ND ’86, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The Lancet recognizes surgery as one of the key neglected areas in global health. The “Commission” will unite surgeons with health and policy experts to analyze the current state of surgical care in low- and middle-income countries.  

Other graduates are serving oversees and immediately implementing their global health education. One is going to Zambia to serve as a Global Health Research Associate working with Notre Dame and Catholic Relief Services. Many are, or will be, working in fields such as program design and implementation, community needs assessment, and public health. The University is encouraged that this group of graduates will not, “die with the music still inside.”

The Director of the Institute, David Severson stated, “the Eck Institute for Global Health offers multiple approaches to support the training of the next generation of global health researchers – from undergraduates to the masters program to PhD students. Students and faculty engage in global health research in Notre Dame laboratories, as well as in field sites around the globe.”

The Eck Institute for Global Health is a university-wide enterprise that recognizes health as a fundamental human right and endeavors to promote research, training, service to advance health standards for all people, especially people in low and middle-income countries, who are disproportionately impacted by preventable diseases. For more information about Notre Dame’s Master of Science in Global Health degree program, visit globalhealth.nd.edu/masters/.