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Interdisciplinary health course boosts global experience

Apr. 25, 2013, 8:34 AM

First-year School of Medicine student Leonela Villegas examines a patient at La Chureca with Manna Project International, one of the sites where students in the Nicaragua Global Health Course provided service earlier this spring.

A recent addition to interdisciplinary electives illustrates how Vanderbilt educators are working to bring future health care providers together to prepare for work in an increasingly global and multicultural world.

Neerav (Nick) Desai, M.D., assistant professor of Adolescent Medicine, and Lindy Fenlason, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, co-direct the Nicaragua Global Health Course, offered through the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH). They recently returned from this year’s trip to provide health education and services in Nicaragua. Desai said as much as the trip is about service, students gain enormously from the experience.

“It started as a service project planned by medical student Jill Aragon, who is from Nicaragua. Then we were asked to write a curriculum that would introduce a framework for global health education, and also be multidisciplinary,” Desai said. “Not only does it bring together instructors from disciplines across campus, but the medical, nursing, graduate and undergraduate students all work together for the final poster presentation.”

The course is a 12-week elective, with instruction from the Schools of Nursing and Medicine, the Center for Latin American Studies and VIHG. It culminates in a short trip to Nicaragua, designed to build on relationships fostered over the last four years with Nicaraguan community providers.

“Part of the goal is to address ethical concerns in global health regarding sustainability and long-term relationships built on common goals with the people in the areas we serve,” Fenlason said. “It is all about the exchange of ideas; going and providing service and building capacity, but also listening and learning from them as well.”

This year students in the course worked to design patient handouts and involve clinic patients in educational games to encourage their interest in and understanding of ways to improve their health. There was also a journal club education experience to share Nicaraguan research and Spanish language and cultural sensitivity training. For more information, email

An additional offering is a field experience where Vanderbilt residents and medical and undergraduate students will have a new opportunity to work with the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center (VVC) and Fundación INFANT in Buenos Aires. The VVC and INFANT are partnering to bring clinical research training and insight on the health care system in Buenos Aires to students. For more information on this field experience, email

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