Global Health

Making Law Students Part of the Global Health Team

Old Globe

By Jennifer Salopek

In their paper in the December 2015 issue of Healthcare, Virginia Rowthorn and Jody Olsen discuss the evolution of the Center for Global Education Initiatives (CGEI) at their institution, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). The UMB Faculty and Student Interprofessional Global Health Grant Program provides grants of up to $10,000 for an interprofessional global health project that includes students from at least two different schools.

This is the first university-sponsored global health grant program in North America that conditions funding on interprofessional student participation,” they write. While the program targets students in the expected health professions—dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work—it also embraces law students. This is a critical element, Rowthorn says.

“Law is usually on the margins of global health; I think it’s unique to include law students in these global health projects. Health care is so heavily regulated in the United States, whereas globally it is based on hard and soft laws. I think it’s imperative that law students join the fight for improved access to health care. They are able to identify potential problems and see a way forward for advocacy and legal change.”

Olsen notes that there is a human rights aspect to health care, especially in ensuring care for orphans and vulnerable children. In one grant-funded project, a healthy lifestyle-centered curriculum for primary-aged children in Rwanda, law students looked at the laws governing the children’s right to education. They discovered that, while strong in the capital city, these laws were overlooked in the villages in favor of the chief’s law. They discovered that the children’s lack of access to school uniforms presented a barrier to school attendance. (Interestingly, this project was led by the School of Dentistry.)

In 2012, an interprofessional group of UMB students used the WHO Safe Motherhood Needs Assessment to evaluate interventions relating to safe motherhood in the rural district of Chikhwawa, Malawi. They discovered that up to half of pregnant women were delivering their babies in their villages, assisted by a birth attendant, rather than going to the medical clinic—a clinic they had a clear right to use. Law and social work students collaborated to frame for the women their human right to health care access.

This interprofessional collaboration is a foundational element of the UMB program, and one that draws upon institutional culture. Rowthorn reports that UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, is committed to interprofessional education and has created an environment in which it is recognized, funded, and celebrated.

One of the other notable aspects of CGEI is its leadership: Olsen and Rowthorn, a social worker and a lawyer, co-directing a global health program on a health sciences campus. They say the model benefits the program.

“Ours is a leadership of persistence and partnership. We aren’t competing within the medical hierarchy, we aren’t in the clinical weeds, and we are able to build teams because we are non-threatening. Our job is not to challenge but to convene,” Olsen says.

She notes that theirs is a program in which all voices can be heard. Equality has been a pillar since CGEI’s original inception as the Global Health Resource Center in 2005 as the result of a grant from NIH’s Fogarty International Center. Amid a faculty movement toward more interprofessional collaboration, students formed a democratic team and found a new way to pull together in an existing malaria amelioration program in Malawi.

“The students became the continuity and the guides,” says Olsen, who went to Malawi with students for four consecutive summers. “That equality has remained central to our program.”

The greatest innovation of CGEI is the requirement that faculty must involve students from at least two schools in order to apply successfully for a grant.

“We are the first program in the country to incentivize faculty to mentor students outside of their own profession,” Rowthorn says.

In 2016, interprofessional faculty and student teams from UMB will work on a malaria project in Myanmar, pediatric/adolescent HIV prevention in Nigeria, occupational health in Gambia, medication safety in Egypt, and antiretroviral prescribing for pediatric HIV patients in Rwanda.

Jennifer Jennifer-1990-webJ. Salopek is a contributing editor to Healthcare: The Blog. As founding editor of Wing of Zock for the Association of American Medical Colleges, she created a vibrant online community focused on sharing innovations in academic medicine. She writes about health care, innovation, and medical education from her office in Virginia. She can be reached at

Photo by Kenneth Lu, used under CC BY / No alterations from the original

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