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Global health center embraces outreach

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
If fate had gone down differently - if Lisa K. Saladin’s grandparents hadn’t escaped Lithuania with their little ox cart during World War II - life would be very different for MUSC’s interim dean of the College of Health Professions.

Dr. Lisa Saladin

Instead Saladin sits more than 4,000 miles away and reflects on the twists and turns that happen in life. She recently went to Lithuania with her mother, who was born there, to visit relatives and tour some hospitals and health care facilities.

“It’s the kids that get to you more than anything. They tug on your heart strings,” she said. “Being a physical therapist and seeing what some of those children are dealing with as far as disabilities and not having mobility and adaptive equipment really did move me. And it also made me think, but for the grace of God, there would be me. You have to feel a sense of privilege for living in this country. You need to look for ways to pay that back and say, ‘I’m not going to take this for granted.’”

Saladin wants to help others who feel the same to do more to reach out. She’s sits in the perfect position to do so as chair of MUSC’s globalization committee, which is charged with the expansion of MUSC’s Center for Global Health.

“This started with Dr. Greenberg’s vision. I was excited to see when we first got together as a committee to develop the globalization piece of the strategic plan, the excitement in the room from everyone there. There was a palpable passion from people in this institution to expand our efforts globally.”

The vision is for the center to serve as a coordinator for global efforts as a way to increase participation and lead to more interprofessional collaborations and partnerships. The center will form a database, which will include current outreach activities happening in the state and nation, as well as the world. Global doesn’t just mean international, it means extending the reach of MUSC beyond the Tri-county area, she said.

Many people may be unaware of the state and national outreach efforts because the more “exotic” types of global activities, such as MUSC’s involvement with Tanzania and Ghana, tend to get more press.

“If you took a look at the number of opportunities we are engaged in to provide free health care in this state, especially in rural areas, it vastly outweighs the number of opportunities that we’re providing outside the USA – by tenfold or even a hundredfold.”

She urges staff and faculty to answer any surveys that are sent out. “We will be asking for people interested in helping or participating in global health to contact the center so they can be matched with programs.”
Another goal is to clear up misconceptions about globalization plans.

Given limited resources and cuts in state funding, not everyone sees a need for this kind of outreach. The committee is developing a business plan, and is sensitive about not taking away resources from critical areas, she said. Rather, the center will look for external funding and nonprofit support. “We need to be sure we preserve state resources and explore and be creative in finding alternative funding sources for a lot of these opportunities because it’s worth it.”

To not pursue globalization is not an option, not if MUSC wants to remain competitive, she said.

“It’s an interest of our students and an interest of new faculty, so it’s a great recruitment tool in addition to these great services we can provide. It’s important to also note that we believe that those global health opportunities also will help us improve the health of local citizens. There is no disconnect.”

No one proves that better than Cynthia Cupit Swenson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Swenson got children she was helping in North Charleston involved with her outreach work to Ghana.

“Now those children in North Charleston have relationships and opportunities to communicate with children in Ghana and to learn about children in other countries. Then what she’s done in Ghana is bring back her knowledge and expertise to enhance the health in citizens that she’s seeing her,” Saladin said.

It’s not always clinical services, either. Sometimes global outreach involves education and research. “If we work with an AIDS population in Africa and do research or provide services, it helps our ability to do our research here and provide better care. We see that connection, but I don’t think others often see that connection.”

The faculty, staff and students who do global work get insights into other cultures, a skill that translates well into working with a culturally-diverse population at home. They also have to be innovative and problem-solve because they’re in an environment that often has limited resources, she said.

“Too often we don’t have exposure to individuals of other cultures. That exposure brings tolerance and understanding. This country is becoming much more culturally diverse. We need to expose our students to those different cultures to prepare them.”

The data is clear that when those providing care understand the needs of the individual patients, their culture and beliefs, that the outcome is better, she said. “If we have no understanding of their culture, obviously we’re not going to come anywhere close to that standard of care we want.”

The center will be exploring educational and research opportunities abroad, including collaborations with universities that would offer data on a more culturally diverse population. Having an opportunity to expand research efforts internationally will build MUSC’s research databases, enhance its national reputation for research and extend its abilities in what can be done in research, she said. It also will attract more international students, which provides more cultural diversity in the classroom.

In the meantime, Saladin hopes students, staff and faculty will take advantage of the center’s global mission.

“It’s a personal growth opportunity. Every outreach opportunity I’ve ever participated in has expanded me in so many ways. There’s this sense of this extension of your compassion for others—to experience it changes you.”


Friday, Nov. 26, 2010

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