Yale’s Office of Global Health Builds Medical Capacity Abroad

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Many American medical schools have programs to send their students, medical residents, and physicians on short rotations to the developing world, but in its commitment to being a truly global university Yale has gone one step further: completing the circle of exchange by bringing physicians from the developing world to New Haven.

“This is a very important undertaking that will have a big impact in the future,” said Dr. Kirenga, a pulmonologist from Uganda visiting Yale this year.  “The people who come back are doing things a bit differently now, and are helping a lot of people.” 

The Office of Global Health, within the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, has for years provided American medical residents with the opportunity to spend 6 weeks working abroad at one of five partner sites in Uganda, South Africa, Indonesia, Liberia, Colombia, or Rwanda through the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars Program. These medical residents work closely with their local colleagues, expanding their understanding of human health and disease by seeing how medicine is practiced in other parts of the world, providing information on how medicine is practiced in the United States, and helping meet critical needs of the area in which they are placed. A few members of Yale’s medical faculty also travel to these sites.

In 2007, after years of working with the same sites and developing close relationships with their colleagues abroad, Office of Global Health administrators were able to start using some of their funding to formally bring local doctors from two of their partner sites- in Kampala, Uganda and Sukdana, Indonesia- to Yale for up to a year of experiential learning in the United States. These doctors learn firsthand how medicine is practiced in the United States and develop skills they would be hard pressed to acquire at home due to a lack of specialized expert knowledge and highly advanced medical technology. Since the start of this program, Yale has hosted 18 visiting physicians, including 5 this year.

“The physicians coming to Yale are working on a skill set that can be transported and shared,” said Laura Crawford, Program Administrator for Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars Program.  “We are really working to build the infrastructure and capacity of our partners abroad, and to improve their ability to provide care.”  So far, every one of the physicians who has come to Yale under the program has returned to their home countries to work on improving care in their communities.

The Office of Global Health works closely with each visiting physician to develop a specialized training program tailored to their medical specialty and their specific goals. Dr. Vina Christiana, a general practitioner from Indonesia, came to Yale this year to gain a broad exposure to American medical practice. Her days are filled with rotations between different departments and learning different procedures, doing outpatient care at the West Haven VA hospital, and attending lectures, talks, and classes.

“The different approach [to medicine] here has opened my mind, and I will take that back to my work in Indonesia,” Dr. Christiana said.  “I hope to bring my experience to share with the young doctors there.  With my time here I think I can really improve the system.”

Dr. Kirenga has been a pulmonologist for many years, and came to Yale to hone his knowledge and skills, especially when it comes to medical technology.  He says that when he returns to Uganda, “throughout the remainder of my service I will be pushing toward that level [of medical care] I have seen here, now that I understand it firsthand…and for what we can’t do yet in Uganda I will find ways to improvise in the meantime.”

Both doctors emphasized the critical importance of this program and those like it to successfully building medical capacity abroad. Dr. Christiana said, “This is a very rare opportunity.  It would be very helpful if there were more programs like this to open other people’s minds the way it has opened mine.”

In the future, program administrators hope to see this initiative expand to the other sites affiliated with the Office of Global Health, and to spread the positive impact of the program even further.  For more information, please visit the Office of Global Health’s website.

- By Leslie Bull