UM-Flint Expands International Public Health Opportunities

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UM-Flint public health students at an orphanage in Tanzania.
UM-Flint public health students at an orphanage in Tanzania.

The UM-Flint Department of Public Health and Health Sciences (PHHS) is expanding its international opportunities for students.

Six students, with Dr. Robert Buckingham, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan-Flint, spent their spring break on a global health field experience in Tanzania this semester. It included time at an orphanage Buckingham founded five years ago, public health clinics he helped start, a wildlife research institute that addresses zoonotic diseases, a water filtration plant, a local teachers college, and more.

A return trip is planned for next spring, as is part of a growing emphasis on international opportunities, said Dr. Suzanne Selig, director of the department.

"Our Department will continue to build upon this experience to provide opportunities for PHHS students to complete internships and projects in Europe, Asia, and Central America."

Buckingham was elected to the executive board of the Association of School of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER), starting his three-term in January, 2016. He became the first American to sit on the board. The university, through PHHS, became the first associate member of ASPHER from the United States.

Membership paves the way for faculty exchange programs, and student internships abroad.

"Possible training sites will be explored through the extensive international network that PHHS has launched through our membership in ASHPER,"  Selig said.

She pointed to Buckingham's extensive international connections for helping to spur the department's growing offerings. Buckingham helped develop hospice in the United States. He was the first director of research of hospice in Connecticut, in 1974, and founded 81 other hospice programs worldwide.

"With his leadership, we have broadened the scope of PHHS opportunities for students and faculty to benefit from educational experiences beyond the boundaries of North America," Selig said.

During a recent campus presentation of their trip, the students said it sharpened their perspective, professional skills, and mindset. It gave them time to reflect and it inspired them.

"My goal is to give my students an experience they will never forget and show them the beauty of Africa and its wonderful people and wildlife," Buckingham said.

UM-Flint public health students in Tanzania.
UM-Flint public health students in Tanzania.

UM-Flint student Deanna Patrosso, who took the trip to Tanzania, plans on becoming a physician assistant. The trip inspired her and opened her eyes to global health issues, such as the lack of health care access in many areas.

"Professionally, socially, it really puts everything in perspective," she said.

Brandon Worden, who finished his pre-physical therapy studies this semester at UM-Flint, took the trip. He plans on studying physical therapy at the school in the fall and said the Tanzania trip deeply influenced him. Seeing the overall health care disparities in the area versus the United States created a desire to help different underserved areas as part of his professional path. Worden said he was thankful the department developed the trip, and said the university thrives at providing opportunities for students.

"I love the university's proactiveness and how they really invest in their students, and identify the usefulness of these opportunities, and the importance of providing students with them because of how it can advance their professional careers and education," Worden said.

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