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Kathleen Head, Director of the Center for International Studies.

Kathleen Head, Director of the Center for International Studies, on the Importance of Global Engagement

  • When we last connected with Kathleen Head, Director of the Center for International Studies, she shared insight into her trip to Peru with MCPHS students, where they traveled to a small village in the Andes Mountains called Ichupampa to conduct a daylong campaign offering health services to the villagers.

    This year, Head has been focused on continuing to empower Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) students to take advantage of unique learning and professional experiences abroad, including in South Africa and England.

    We recently caught up with Kathleen to hear more about how international collaboration makes for better healthcare professionals and to hear more about what her students have achieved in the last year.

    Why is it so important for our students to collaborate with healthcare students and professionals from other countries?

    This is a really exciting time to be working in the field of healthcare education. Global engagement has become a necessity, with increasing emphasis on global outreach and collaboration. As future healthcare professionals and practitioners, our students will be engaging with colleagues, patients, researchers, etc. from diverse backgrounds. It is vitally important that we are teaching students to practice cultural respect. According to the National Institutes of Health, culture and cultural respect are defined as the following:

    “Culture is often described as the combination of a body of knowledge, a body of belief and a body of behavior. It involves a number of elements, including personal identification, language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions that are often specific to ethnic, racial, religious, geographic, or social groups. For the provider of health information or healthcare, these elements influence beliefs and belief systems surrounding health, healing, wellness, illness, disease, and delivery of health services. The concept of cultural respect has a positive effect on patient care delivery by enabling providers to deliver services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients.”

    By learning and practicing this concept, our students will be equipped to address health disparities, quality of care, health systems, and agencies functioning to promote access to health globally. Collaboration with international institutions, faculty and students will inevitably introduce varying perspectives, challenge biases, and best equip our students for success post-MCPHS.

    Tell us about a time from the past year when you've been inspired by your students.

    It’s hard to choose just one instance! Kimberly Levitt (MPH ’18) conducted some really interesting and thought-provoking research in London last Spring.

    She had a fantastic experience in London! Who else has inspired you?

    I was extremely impressed and inspired by our pharmacy students who traveled to South Africa for one of their elective Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotations. Under the guidance of their preceptor, Dr. Renier Coetzee, Senior Lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, students engaged in a project related to social accountability.

    What did your students say about their experience?

    Thomas Laudone, PharmD ’18 was one of 31 students who completed global APPE rotations in the 2017-18 academic year, and he was one of the first from our Boston campus to embark on this project. I'll let him speak for himself! Here's what Thomas reported: “The focus of the research project is social accountability. For a school to be socially accountable it means they send students to work collaboratively with governments, health service organizations, and the public to positively impact people’s health. As socially accountable pharmacy students, we collaborate with a non-governmental organization that is supported by the South African Department of Health to develop a sustainable and beneficial community program that aims to attract healthcare professional graduates to come work for the program.”

    What did students experience during their time in South Africa?

    Students worked with a non-governmental organization and affiliate of the University of the Western Cape’s School of Pharmacy, Touching Nations. Touching Nations employs community care workers (CCWs) to provide healthcare to the community of Delft through home visits. MCPHS students visited Delft, shadowed CCWs, interviewed program coordinators, and collected data to determine the needs of the CCWs and potential gaps in knowledge. With this information, they then developed educational materials, presentations and trainings for the CCWs.

    Tell us more.

    This project is one that is ongoing and was recently awarded $300,000 in grant funding to support continued efforts initiated by Dr. Coetzee, the University of the Western Cape and our students. In fact, the School of Pharmacy’s Office of Experiential Learning named Dr. Coetzee “2017-2018 Preceptor of the Year” for global health advancement. In addition, MCPHS students presented a poster at last year’s annual American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Conference and their plan is to publish a peer-reviewed article on the project.

    What did students take away from their time in South Africa?

    I think I was most inspired to hear what Thomas had to say in his reflective recap, which is a requirement for all students participating in global APPE rotations. He said: “My experience in South Africa definitely provided me with a unique opportunity to grow professionally and further develop as a future pharmacist. This international rotation offered me a more worldly view of healthcare compared to my previous experiences at home in the United States of America. By practicing healthcare within a different structural system, I was forced to be open-minded and critically think to provide the best level of care for each patient while respecting the cultural parameters of South Africa.”

    What do you have planned for this semester?

    We are really hoping to engage with the incoming class. Most of our students come to MCPHS with career aspirations and enter directly into a professional program or into an undergraduate professional pathway. As a result, students commonly assume that education abroad is not an option. Of course, this is not the case! There are so many opportunities for students depending on their personal/professional/academic goals as well as their major. We are currently accepting applications for our Volunteer Morocco program, which is open to all students and takes place over the Winter Break. During the Fall Semester, we will be announcing spring and summer programs as well as international rotation opportunities for our PharmD and PA students. We encourage any interested students to fill out an advising questionnaire and schedule an appointment with our office. Otherwise, students can learn more about CIS by visiting our blog. CIS student ambassadors are featured here as well as information about international programs and activities taking place both on and off campus.

    The Center for International Studies at MCPHS offers educational and professional opportunities to students, including service-learning programs, clinical rotations and clerkships, and travel courses.