Kathleen Head, Director of the Center for International Studies at MCPHS.

How can we empower compassionate healthcare professionals?

June 07, 2017

  • Kathleen Head knows that one way to empower students to become better, more compassionate healthcare professionals is by enabling them to experience a variety of healthcare settings abroad.

    As Director of the Center for International Studies at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), she does just that.

    “Ultimately, we aim to build bridges and foster connections across cultures and between people, both here on campus and all over the world,” said Kathleen. “I have the pleasure of working with faculty, staff, and administrators to develop new international programs, ranging from exchange opportunities and service learning to clinical rotations and placements abroad.”

    Kathleen’s passion for international education began with her own study abroad experiences. She earned her BA in Spanish language and literature from Colgate University, in a degree program that included a semester abroad in Seville, Spain. “It definitely changed my career and, arguably, my life trajectory,” said Kathleen.

    Kathleen went on to earn her MS in Global Studies and International Affairs at Northeastern University, completing her master’s research in Italy on student mobility within the European Union. “Both experiences certainly shaped my career and helped me learn a lot about myself,” said Kathleen. “One of the reasons I am so passionate about education abroad is because these opportunities expose us to diverse perspectives and challenge our implicit biases and ways of thinking.”

    Kathleen explains that international experiences are especially important for health sciences students, allowing them to gain important insight into international healthcare systems and the needs of underserved populations. Through her role at the Center for International Studies, Kathleen develops global affiliations and programming designed to give students that opportunity.

    Arianna Maida ’20, a Premedical and Health Studies student who is starting in the Physician Assistant Studies program this fall, says that the experiences she gained through the Center for International Studies have helped her grow as a future healthcare professional.

    “My experiences in Peru last summer and Morocco this summer are preparing me to become a more well-rounded, empathetic, and culturally competent healthcare provider and person,” said Arianna.

    Kathleen accompanied Arianna and 13 other students on a service program to Peru last year, which was coordinated through a sister school, Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria, in Arequipa. “We volunteered at a community health center, participated in local health outreach campaigns, and traveled to a small village in the Andes Mountains called Ichupampa to conduct a daylong campaign offering health services to the villagers,” said Kathleen.

    Kathleen explains that experiences like this take students outside their typical environment. “Our students are not yet licensed medical professionals, but they gain a unique opportunity to experience and observe healthcare and healthcare delivery in a different cultural and geopolitical context,” said Kathleen.

    Kathleen works closely with students to help them plan their international experiences – in many cases, explaining that international experiences are possible even with a busy schedule.

    “Many of our students come to MCPHS, a specialized institution with a fairly rigid curriculum, thinking that study abroad and international experiences aren’t an option for them. It’s as if there’s an invisible or perceived barrier,” said Kathleen. “I love that I get to break that barrier and work with students individually to be able to provide them with an experience abroad.”

    For health sciences students interested in participating in international experiences, advance planning is key, explains Kathleen. “My best advice to students would be to plan early and to meet with us,” she said. “We post all of our program information and host our applications online, and I think students should really spend some time on our blog to get a better feel for the international programs taking place on and off campus.”

    In addition to her work with students, Kathleen works closely with affiliated universities, clinical sites, and organizations worldwide on a variety of topics ranging from curriculum development to faculty exchanges. Kathleen explains that the University’s affiliations with prestigious medical and health sciences institutions enable students to take advantage of highly sought-after rotation experiences.

    Kathleen makes international placements a reality for students in their final year of the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) and Doctor of Pharmacy programs, placing students at sites in Bolivia, Belize, China, Korea, South Africa, and England, among other countries.

    One example of this effort to build relationships with other institutions is the University’s affiliation with Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC), China’s oldest and most prestigious school of Western clinical medicine. “We are thrilled to be affiliated with PUHSC,” said Kathleen. “During the fall semester, we host a handful of PUHSC medical students who are completing their medical elective clerkship alongside our MPAS students at Newton Wellesley Hospital. Then, during the summer term, our students travel to Beijing to complete their clerkships at PUHSC’s People’s Hospital.”

    Kathleen has been hard at work preparing for the next exchange with PUHSC. In the 2017–18 academic year, Doctor of Pharmacy students will travel to Beijing for a similar experience.

    “This is just one of many examples of the work we do in the Center for International Studies to increase international, academic cooperation and provide immersion opportunities for our students,” said Kathleen. “We are committed to broadening our students’ horizons and giving them new perspectives that can help them to be more effective and more compassionate healthcare professionals.”