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SUNY Downstate Medical Center


Public Health for a Global Community

Global Health Elective

Global Health Elective for Medical Students

PUBH 4540: Global Health in Developing Countries

This elective is offered to fourth year medical students who have satisfactorily completed all academic requirements for the third year.
Application (PDF) »

About the Elective

The School of Public Health's Elective, Global Health in Developing Countries, was initiated by the Dean, Dr. Pascal James Imperato, who served as the course director through 2016. Beginning in the academic year 2015-2016, Dr. Denise Bruno, who received her Master of Public Health degree in International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, assumed the role of director of the elective. At the same time Dr. Monica Sweeney, Vice Dean for Global Engagement and director of the Center for Global Health, assumed the position of course co-director. The objectives of this elective are to provide fourth year students with an opportunity to observe, study, and participate in public health programs in resource poor countries, to study health and health care disparities in such countries, to be of service to disadvantaged populations in these countries, and to have a cross-cultural experience.

As of 2014-2015, some 390 students have participated in this elective in some 41 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Most have spent six to eight weeks at overseas sites arranged by the course directors. The program at Downstate is one of the largest and most successful in the country. Some of its procedures and practices have been adopted by a number of other medical school programs, and by the International Health Medical Educational Consortium (IHMEC).

Admission to this elective is highly competitive and applicants are carefully screened. Annually, some 50 students compete for approximately twenty places. The admission process includes an examination of the academic record to date, a personal interview with a member of the Global Health Elective Selection Committee, and reference checking with faculty familiar with applicants. The Selection Committee attaches great importance to an applicant's interpersonal skills and abilities to work with others. Students who have a commitment to a career in preventive medicine, public health, or primary care are given some degree of preference. Each student admitted is carefully advised by the course directors, who also arrange the overseas placements.

Our program has always had stringent policies and procedures regarding selection of overseas sites, health maintenance, and safety. Students are not permitted to travel to countries which the Department of State considers risky. Country-specific information is regularly updated from the Department of State, and in certain instances, the course directors speak directly with the country-specific desk officer at the State Department. In addition, the course directors regularly update local conditions through contact with in-country preceptors, some of whom have collaborated with us for many years.

Existing sites are only discussed with those who are accepted into the program, not with applicants. Similarly, contact information for those who particiapted in the elective in the past is only shared with accepted students, not with applicants. The approval process for alternate sites is only undertaken for accepted applicants. However, applicants may list such sites on their applications.

Financial Assistance for the Global Health Elective

The School of Public Health provides partial financial assistance to medical student participants in the Global Health Elective. Applicants to the elective should be aware that this financial assistance is not intended to cover all of the possible expenses that a participant may incur. The stipends given to the participants are only intended to help defray expenses. Therefore, students should be prepared to pay for some expenses from their own funds. Depending on overseas location and unforeseen circumstances that may arise before, during, and after the elective, these expenses might be considerable. Financial assistance for this elective is largely provided from several extramural sources including the LSK Foundation, the Alumni Fund of the College of Medicine, and by other donors. Some of the Alumni Fund support has been provided through specific bequests to the Fund.  In 1983, Mrs. Lona B. Kennéy donated a significant sum to support the elective in memory of her husband, Dr. Michael Kennéy, a renowned patho-parasitologist and Clinical Professor of Pathology at Downstate. In 1998, Dr. Joshua H. Weiner, a graduate of the Class of 1941, read of the overseas elective. Having spent time studying tropical medicine in Puerto Rico in his senior year, he expressed a desire to financially support the program. In early 1999, Dr. Weiner donated a significant sum to the Alumni Fund of the College of Medicine to help defray the travel expenses of students participating in the elective. Applicants for this elective should keep in mind that student stipends provided for this elective are only intended to assist in defraying expenses and not to cover them entirely.

Medical students may apply for the Global Health in Developing Countries Elective in the fall of their third year. Guidelines are provided in the tab at the top of the page.

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