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On March 31, UNC’s chapters of Timmy Global Health and MEDLIFE put together a panel of three leaders in global health to discuss ways that students can be involved in global health work abroad. The speakers were Alyssa Rossodivita, the US Programs Manager for Timmy Global Health; Dr. Raúl Necochea, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Medicine; and Dr. Ron Strauss, Executive Vice Provost and Chief International Officer at UNC. The panelists discussed barriers that college students face when working abroad and how students can break these barriers to provide better global service.

Dr. Necochea discussed the history of student global health work, starting from the 1970s. He discussed how Dr. Carl Taylor took a team of six medical students to Nepal in 1976 to complete a course called “Human Ecology in the Himalayas.” Students in the course were able to learn firsthand how to diagnose common diseases with very little access to technology and with the use of simple treatments. Taylor aimed to develop relationships with the local communities, to think broadly about possible solutions, and to hold a debriefing afterwards to allow the students to process their experiences.

Today, many of the same benefits apply to students who go on medical service trips. However, it is important to consider who is benefiting most in this exchange – the students or the community? Dr. Necochea acknowledged a growing number of articles today denouncing ‘voluntourism,’ – so many that they “properly constitute a literary genre.” Dr. Necochea highlighted that this is not a new phenomenon, and it is important for students and professionals working abroad to consider the roles they play in these communities and how their agendas from home may affect their work.

Dr. Strauss urged students to focus on forming relationships with the local community and to only perform work they are prepared and qualified to do. He recalled that what stood out to him most from his own experiences abroad were the relationships he made with the community and the local healthcare providers.

Ms. Rossodivita explained the dual mission of Timmy Global Health: expanding access to healthcare and health services in areas with high levels of need, and empowering students and volunteers to advocate for global health equity. Timmy has received praise for working with local residents of the countries they work in, making sure their needs are addressed and aiming to improve the continuum of care they receive.

The panelists emphasized that there are many ways to have an impact on a community, not just through medical service. This echoes the thoughts of Dr. Chuck Dietzen, the founder of Timmy Global Health: “We were not all born to be doctors and nurses, but we were all born to be healers.”

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