From left: medical students Graham, Lucas, Cande and Kayla at the Shekhinah Clinic in Ghana, West Africa. (Photo: Submitted)
From left: medical students Graham, Lucas, Cande and Kayla at the Shekhinah Clinic in Ghana, West Africa. (Photo: Submitted)

Making the Links: A Certificate in Global Health

Making the Links allowed us to expand our understanding of health through theory and practice.

By Kayla Cropper, Candelaria Aristizabal Londono, Lucas Fisher & Graham Beresh
From left: Graham and Lucas in Île-à-la-Crosse during their rural placement. (Photo: Submitted)

The practical components work to reinforce the knowledge acquired through the theoretical courses. The program works to provide students with the information needed to understand health determinants within our community, and outside of it.

The certificate helped to broaden our perspective on health outside of the walls of a hospital. It provided us with valuable knowledge and the opportunity to live and practice in different settings. Overall, this experience helped us to develop an understanding of health that is difficult to shake and sparked a desire to give back and do better.

We spent time in the classroom on theory-based lectures and readings so that when we entered a community, our experiences were guided by an understanding of the social and structural determinants of health impacting the people with whom we were working. We also developed the skill of reflective practice so we could apply this during our practicums to analyze our self-position in real time, and the ways in which our presence in the community could affect the community and our interactions within it.

From left: Graham, Lucas, Cande, and Kayla in front of Westmount Community School. (Photo: Submitted)

In Saskatchewan, our urban practicum at Westmount Community School and our rural community placements provided us with opportunities to broaden our understanding of the needs of Saskatchewan communities by learning directly from the community members through relationship-building and personal stories.

Our time at Westmount School gave us a first-hand exposure to the inequities that lower-socioeconomic neighbourhoods frequently experience. One example that impacted us was the lack of access to safe drinking water at the school as it was in an inner-city neighborhood that continues to use lead-galvanized pipes. Other impactful realizations were the quantity of food that students received from home and the limited knowledge surrounding one’s health.

Although the specific needs of the communities were different in our rural practicum, the struggles and lack of government support appeared to be similar. In Île-à-la-Crosse and Kawacatoose First Nation, two primarily Indigenous communities, we noticed difficulties such as limited access to healthy foods, poor access to healthcare, and gradual generational deterioration in cultural identity.

During our international practicum, we learnt about structural violence perpetuated through strategic economic development, and how structural neglect of the northern part of a country can translate to a north versus south health divide. This is something we recognized in Ghana, but also back home in Saskatchewan where northern communities face significant barriers to healthcare access due to factors such as poor road infrastructure.

Throughout the program, we learned of the broad structural inequities that exist in the medical field. These inequities, often perpetuated unconsciously, are rooted in historical, socio-economic, and political realities of the past. On all three of our practicums, we were able to witness first-hand how some of these structural biases came to be, and how they continue to affect the healthcare sector to this day.

For example, our time in Ghana was grounded by visiting historical sites to learn about the history of slavery and its links to medicine. We learned of the macro-scale consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade including persistent health inequities and the improvements in medicine as a direct result of the atrocities, such as understanding the spread of communicable diseases and the effects of malnutrition.

For an example closer to home, we learned of the damaging stereotypes that are imposed on Indigenous peoples in Canada, and how our government was instrumental in creating and spreading these stereotypes throughout our country’s history. These negative stereotypes persist today and can often influence how interpersonal interactions occur in our emergency rooms and hospitals. It is important for us as future healthcare practitioners to recognize our own personal biases, and work to dismantle the biases that affect our institutions.

Kawacatoose First Nation Reserve in Saskatchewan, taken during Cande and Kayla’s rural placement. (Photo: Submitted)

We will carry these lessons forward into the patient care aspects of our undergraduate medical training to better understand the experiences and perspectives of the patients we meet in our community.

This program has built a solid foundation for our personal and professional growth, and we are so grateful to have this training early on in our careers, as it will inform our future practice in medicine. It has empowered us by building our knowledge and skillset for social accountability and advocacy. As future physicians, we must continue to improve our cultural humility and work with the communities we serve to better represent them in our future practices.

Making the Links: A Certificate in Global Health is open to College of Medicine and School of Rehabilitation Science students. The two-year program supports the development of socially accountable health professionals through coursework and urban, rural/Indigenous and international practicums. The deadline to apply for the next cohort is September 29, 2023. Learn more