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Capacity building activities and new curriculum strengthen medical education in Liberia

Feb. 24, 2022, 10:17 AM

From left are Bonnie Miller, MD, VUMC; Odell Kumeh, MD, MPH, ULCHS; Marie Martin, PhD, MEd, VUMC; Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, ULCHS; Kristina Talbert-Slagle, PhD, Yale; and Comfort Enders, MEd, ULCHS.
From left are Bonnie Miller, MD, VUMC; Odell Kumeh, MD, MPH, ULCHS; Marie Martin, PhD, MEd, VUMC; Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, ULCHS; Kristina Talbert-Slagle, PhD, Yale; and Comfort Enders, MEd, ULCHS.

by Kristin Centers

After decades of civil unrest and the Ebola epidemic, Liberia’s fragile health system is being strengthened through U.S.-Liberia partnerships focused on medical education and capacity building at the country’s only medical school, A.M. Dogliotti (AMD) School of Medicine in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Liberia (ULCHS).

A team of Liberian faculty led by Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, vice president for health services at ULCHS, and faculty from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Yale University worked for three years on revising and redesigning the medical school’s curriculum, which will launch in March 2022. Significant changes include dropping the program length from nine to seven years and improving the training quality through a competency-based, integrated curriculum intended to improve retention and ensure the success of future Liberian physicians.

Adoption of the new curriculum coincided with two pivotal events last fall. Eighty-six preclinical students completed an inaugural science and math skills camp to improve their success in medical school through new scientific knowledge, data-driven critical thinking, and inquiry-based learning. Also, the first two Liberian-trained ophthalmologists graduated from the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS).

Marie Martin, PhD, MEd, assistant professor of Health Policy and associate director of Education and Training at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH), directs Vanderbilt’s new capacity building and medical education initiatives in Liberia through the USAID-funded BRIDGE-U: Applying Research for a Healthy Liberia and PEER Liberia programs.

Vanderbilt’s Troy Moon, MD, MPH, Bonnie Miller, MD, and Neil Osheroff, PhD, have also been heavily engaged in capacity-building efforts in Liberia through the USAID PEER Liberia program. The team collaborates closely with Yale and ULCHS on these initiatives.

“The launch of the new integrated, competency-based medical curriculum at the University of Liberia represents the culmination of three years of sustained commitment toward a stronger health system. This, coupled with implementing a high school science camp and enhanced residency training, means that the country’s entire pipeline for medical education has been strengthened. It’s a moment to be celebrated, particularly during a pandemic when we’re painfully aware of the need for high-quality health care. It has been an honor for Vanderbilt to partner with such visionary and strategic leaders at the University of Liberia, and we’re grateful for the support of the U.S. government for this important work,” said Martin.

While approximately 75 students enter AMD Medical School, around 25 students graduate with their medical degrees. AMD has struggled with attrition, partially due to unprepared incoming students. To address the gaps in the basic sciences at the secondary school level, the ULCHS successfully launched and completed a four-week intensive science and math camp called Camp xSEL. This program equips incoming students with skills and knowledge to boost success during their medical school journey. The month-long curriculum was co-developed with ULCHS, Yale and VUMC faculty and funding from various U.S. government and multilateral agencies.

In addition to classroom sessions, science labs were equipped with microscopes and other materials made possible through a donation from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and facilitated by VIGH and USAID. On the first day of the labs, the instructors had to delay the lesson to take individual pictures with the microscopes. For many students, it was their first time seeing one in person.

U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy visited the University of Liberia campus to celebrate the closing of the inaugural Camp xSEL and the launch of the newly designed medical school curriculum. The large celebration included leaders from the University of Liberia, representatives from the U.S. government, academic partners, faculty, and students.

On the same day, the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons certified the first two Liberian-trained ophthalmologists in Liberia. They were among 30 new specialists at the college’s 5th convocation and annual general scientific meeting. Prior to the addition of the new ophthalmologists, the country had no more than two board-certified ophthalmologists for a country of 4.6 million. With the support of LV Prasad in India and the USAID PEER Liberia program, along with engagement from VUMC’s Amy Chomsky, MD, professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and Sapna Gangaputra, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Vanderbilt, the number of in-country ophthalmologists doubled.

These success stories are the result of programs and initiatives supported and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank to strengthen Liberia’s health care delivery system through a U.S.-Liberian partnership.

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