Danilo Rojas-Velasquez, a third-year medical student, told alumni at reunion how he found global health experiences right here in New Haven. As clinical advisor to the student-run HAVEN Free Clinic in Fair Haven, he oversees the care of patients who are often recent immigrants from Central and South America. “I’ve seen things ranging from active TB to tropical infections, to all sorts of parasitic disease,” he said. “It really gives students a chance to do global health next door, and it gives them a chance to see what serving an underserved community is like.”
Rojas-Velasquez was one of six students or recent graduates to recount their experiences interacting with patients in the community on a panel discussion, “Education Beyond Campus.” Whether at home or abroad, these experiences have had a profound impact on how they view their chosen profession. “For generations of students, the Yale system of education has provided us with opportunities to explore aspects of medicine that have special resonance,” said Robert Rohrbaugh, M.D. ’82, director of the School of Medicine’s Office of International Medical Student Education. Increasingly, these opportunities involve experiences that take medical students well beyond the Yale campus, to gain further understanding of global health and health inequities. “In the 21st century, we have increasing appreciation of health disparities as a problem globally.”
The Office of International Medical Student Education was set up in 2007 to teach students about a variety of topics in global health, including disparities, the social determinants of health, and the global burden of disease. The office has also set up sites around the world‒in Argentina, Borneo, Chile, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and Uganda‒where students can see first-hand the impacts of the social determinants of health on people and health care systems in developing countries. The concept of global health, Rohrbaugh said, also applies to people living in underserved areas of the United States, and there is an increasing effort at Yale to ensure that students understand domestic health disparities in the context of global health.
Other students on the panel talked about their experiences in other countries. Natalie Lastra, M.D. ’15, completed a psychiatry rotation at a hospital in an underserved area of Santiago, Chile, where she was able to witness “the entire spectrum of health care,” from sophisticated hospitals much like Yale New Haven Hospital, to clinics in underserved areas with few resources. Rebecca Vitale, M.D. ’15, traveled to Trivandrum, India, on a Downs Fellowship, which supports international travel for Yale students who conduct health-related research in low- and middle-income countries. Another student, Joel Winer, M.D. ’16, M.H.S. ’16, worked in Tugela Ferry, South Africa.
Other students have extended their education beyond campus by working with New Haven public school students. Jeremiah Cross, co-president of Yale’s Latino Medical Student Association, helps promising students learn about careers in health care through HPREP (Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program), and Sean Cahill supplements the biology lessons of high school students with lessons in Yale’s anatomy lab. “They are really sharp, and it’s really a pleasure to teach them,” Cahill said. “I am glad to make a difference in their lives.”