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Seed maintains a public-private alliance with the Peace Corps called the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP). Above, a GHSP volunteer works alongside hospital staff and trainees in northern Tanzania to support a pediatric patient.

Global healthcare professionals are desperately needed in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region carries 24 percent of the world’s burden of disease, but only 3 percent of the global health workforce works there. In partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health, Seed Global Health seeks to help address this disparity.

Seed maintains a public-private alliance with the Peace Corps called the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP). The alliance allows American volunteers in medicine and nursing to teach in resource-limited settings for one year to help grow a new generation of healthcare educators and providers in its host countries.

The volunteers sow the “seeds” for a sustainable global health solution to take root, reinforcing Mass General’s legacy of building stronger communities and training healthcare leaders of the future.

Thanks to Seed and the Peace Corps, these U.S. volunteers now serve as partners in local education systems in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. They also provide direct medical care, strengthening the mission of education and mentorship. In this way, the volunteers sow the “seeds” for a sustainable global health solution to take root, reinforcing Mass General’s legacy of building stronger communities and training healthcare leaders of the future.

“Trainees and faculty in these countries have an incredible diagnostic knowledge, but they don’t have access to the clinical experience and the clinical teaching and residencies,” says Vanessa Kerry, MD, MSc, the founder and CEO at Seed and associate director for partnerships and global initiatives at the Mass General Center for Global Health. “Seed has been the missing link. Prior to this, there’s been no focus on empowerment and leadership [in medical and nursing education.”]

A Missing Link in Global Health

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Providing education and mentorship are priorities for GHSP volunteers like this one (center, writing on pad) meeting with hospital staff and trainees on an obstetrics ward in northern Tanzania.

In Uganda, Global Health Service Partnership volunteers provide a transformational foundation for African nursing students and practitioners.

In Uganda, GHSP volunteers provide a transformational foundation for African nursing students and practitioners. “There’s a big challenge within nursing schools,” says Julie Anathan, BSN, MPH, deputy chief nursing officer at Seed and international nurse program manager at Mass General’s Center for Global Health. “In Africa specifically, there’s a lack of faculty, and educators are so thinly stretched and overburdened.”
In contrast, GHSP volunteers can take the time to cultivate each student, personally and professionally. “Volunteers inspire them to find their love of nursing and help them advance their careers in a way that will feed back into the universities,” Ms. Anathan says. “We want the students to become leaders.”

A New Way to Learn

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A GHSP volunteer (left) discusses female anatomy with a nursing student in northern Tanzania.

Ari Hoffman, MD, and Kelly Lippi, RN, volunteer at Uganda’s Mbarara University of Science and Technology, where Mass General maintains a partnership. The San Francisco couple arrived in July 2013 as GHSP volunteers. “This program is unique because a lot of global health work has been focused on disaster relief or short-term assignments,” Dr. Hoffman observes. “To have a program that’s all about clinical education and working at the faculty level teaching master’s and undergraduate students is really special.”

Ms. Lippi spends 70 percent of her time in the classroom and the rest performing clinical work. During a typical work day, she teaches a two-hour lecture and does lesson prep, then conducts clinical supervision for nursing students. “It’s a lot of teaching, a lot of hands-on time. I love it,” she says. “We bring a different spin on education here, because we’re really focused on our students succeeding.”

According to Ms. Lippi, nursing in Uganda was long seen as a less than noble profession. Usually, students scoring higher on medical entrance exams were sent on a physician’s track, while those scoring lower were tracked to nursing. Now Lippi sees nursing students who are proud of their careers.

“One student told me, ‘You made me feel like I chose the best profession in the world,'” Ms. Lippi says. Explaining that practical knowledge and self-esteem are integral to the curriculum, she adds, “I focus on teaching the nurse to be a leader in the community, a leader in the hospital and someone who can apply knowledge in a clinical setting.”

Dr. Hoffman, meanwhile, spends much of his time on the wards. He encourages students to examine key areas of medicine that can be overlooked in areas rife with HIV and malaria, such as heart disease and hypertension. “We’re making sure the curriculum is clinically relevant,” he says. “Now we have a growing oncology and cardiology program, and students are learning endoscopy techniques.”

Forming Lifelong Bonds

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Seed founder Vanessa Kerry, MD, enjoys a moment playing with a child in Mbarara, Uganda, one of the places where GHSP volunteers are helping to grow a new generation of healthcare educators and providers.

Relationships sparked by Seed transcend the classroom. The GHSP volunteers are integrated deeply into their communities — a distinctive and fundamental principle of Peace Corps service. They become members of both the community and the local academic world, getting to know hospital faculty, often while bonding over dinner or tea.

Relationships sparked by Seed transcend the classroom. The GHSP volunteers are integrated deeply into their communities.

Ms. Lippi and Dr. Hoffman are already planning a return visit when their mission as GHSP volunteers ends. They’re more than academic partners with their Ugandan hosts; they’re friends.

“That’s what makes the program different; it’s not dropping people in and taking them away,” Dr. Hoffman says. “We’re here for a year. There is longevity. We’re building relationships, and I think people are trusting us more and value what we’re doing. The faculty know they can rely on us.”

So do the students.

“Students are thrilled to have these volunteers showing up in a clinical setting — they have enthusiasm and a hunger for knowledge,” Ms. Anathan says. “The program is bearing fruit in so many ways.”

Read more about Lippi and Hoffman’s Ugandan mission.

Learn more about Seed Global Health and the Global Health Service Partnership.