Course offers insight into global health

Immigration has spurred the need for doctors to learn more about global cultures.

by Marni Ginther

With a growing number of local immigrant and refugee populations such as Somali and Hmong, doctors are seeing more patients with different health needs than patients born in the United States.

To meet these needs, the University is offering a seven-week course to help health professionals.

The Diploma in Clinical Tropical Medicine and Travelers’ Health is offered through the Global Health Pathway, a residency elective program in the University’s Medical School, said program coordinator Holly Heisler.

The course is one of 10 others in the world that prepare students to take an exam offered by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, she said.

“What makes our course different is the focus on immigrant and refugee health as well as tropical medicine,” Heisler said.

Dr. William Stauffer, a professor in the division of infectious disease in the department of medicine, is one of the course directors.

“Some diseases that these (immigrants and refugees) might have are probably only covered for 15 minutes in doctors’ classes in med school,” Stauffer said.

He said there also are cultural differences and language barriers that make it difficult for doctors to treat patients.

He recalled an incident in which a woman had a gynecological problem, but her 7-year-old son was translating for her, so she kept saying she had a headache.

“She simply didn’t want to talk about those types of problems with her son, and yet the doctors kept doing expensive tests to see what was wrong with her head,” Stauffer said.

Brett Hendel-Paterson is a fourth-year medical resident from the University and Darius Loghmanee is a fourth-year resident from Rush University in Chicago. Both said they’ve seen cases where cultural differences have made it difficult to treat patients.

Hendel-Paterson said those kinds of incidents, combined with his experiences in India, Zimbabwe and Uganda, made him interested in global health.

“It springs from an interest in social justice,” he said.

Loghmanee, who has also spent time abroad, agreed.

“You can’t really practice medicine with an isolationist view,” he said. “Someone from pretty much any ethnicity can walk into your office Ö and you have to be familiar with medical issues specific to wherever they’re from.”

The course, which started July 5, drew students from around the world. Although many of them take only portions of the class, there are about 50 students any given week, Heisler said.

“Since a lot of them have been together all day every day for so many weeks, they’ve gotten pretty close,” she said. “It’s a great networking opportunity.”

Loghmanee pointed out that it was a good opportunity for him because he thinks the University has been a leader in global health issues compared with other schools in the region.

“I came because this is the first course like this that I’ve heard of in the Midwest,” he said.

He and Hendel-Paterson agreed that health-care professions are realizing the need for a more global approach to health care, but that putting the realization into practice will take time.