Students enrolled on a new and improved Global Health degree shared their insights with community groups at Imperial's White City campus.
The showcase event, hosted on 22 January 2019, was an opportunity to bring together the Imperial medical and public health communities with local community groups in White City and beyond.
"We want Imperial students to be empathetic toward others, taking into account the context they live in when considering their health needs." Professor Simone Buitendijk
The initiative is an example of social accountability and community engagement within the updated BSc Global Health. The degree now has a far greater focus on the social benefits of strong communities, in addition to targeting disease prevention.
Each year groups of students will produce and present reports alongside their community partners which will inform the next year's student cohort. Some 37 students took part in the project in 2018, working alongside 13 different community groups to understand local health inequalities and effect strategies to reduce disparities in people's health and wellbeing.
Teaching medical students
Gurnam Johal, Global Health Senior Teaching Fellow, Course Lead and Lead for Experiential Learning Placements, said: "The students had three introductory lectures before being matched up with a community group. Some found this challenging and unexpected, but they grew to appreciate the insights of their community partners.
"The students considered the 'assets' in a community that can contribute to positive health and wellbeing outcomes. Given that funding for the voluntary sector has been falling for a number of years, students were recommended to focus on non-financial benefits. This included inter-community networks, school communities, religious or cultural groups - basically anything that can support good health in a neighbourhood. Students were encouraged to think about these issues within a local-global context, and the placements reinforced that Global Health starts right here with our communities in London.
"Crucial to the success of this societal engagement scheme was flexibility, creativity and the formation of strong relationships between Imperial College and our newly established community partners. The sustainability of this initiative is built upon these fundamental dimensions.''
The College's Vice-Provost (Education), Professor Simone Buitendijk, provided the opening address for the showcase: “One of the greatest skills in public health is being able to understand a wide variety of lived experiences. We want Imperial students to be empathetic toward others, taking into account the context they live in when considering their health needs.
"The College’s School of Public Health has a long history of training the next generation of experts, graduates that we hope will go out into the world and change it for the better. It has never been more important that our students understand the communities that surround them. This innovative partnership project provides a crucial opportunity to learn about local public health outcomes in a setting outside of the traditional classroom environment.”
"The students have brought us far closer to this goal by providing their data expertise. This has enabled us to evaluate the impact of our work with far greater accuracy." Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE Director of Forward
Since joining the College in 2016 Professor Buitendijk has led on delivering the Learning and Teaching Strategy. The improved BSc Global Health forms part of a radical, evidence-based plan to transform teaching at the UK’s most international and innovative university. By investing significantly in education the College is empowering students to solve challenges facing the world today and in the future.
Dr Richard Pinder, Director of Undergraduate Public Health Education, said: "It is easy to assume that ‘global' health is what happens elsewhere. But global health is here in London. Our students are tomorrow’s doctors and health system leaders. This experience highlights the huge contribution made by our voluntary and community sector partners, particularly to support those most disadvantaged. Health and wellbeing is about far more than hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.
"With this module we are teaching our students that being effective is not just necessarily about being the smartest in class. Being an effective health professional, and health system leader of the future, is about engaging and collaborating with partners. It’s about taking a wider view on what enables people to make the most of their lives."
Collaborating with the community
Thirteen student-community groups presented at the event, covering organisations with goals as diverse as improving sports access for the disabled, to a charity combating female genital mutilation (FGM).
Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, Director of Forward (Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development), said: "For over 30 years we've wanted to bring about policy change on issues such as FGM and domestic violence. We know that one of the most valuable things we can offer to this public health crisis is to consider it from a preventive point of view. The students have brought us far closer to this goal by providing their data expertise. This has enabled us to evaluate the impact of our work with far greater accuracy.
"We will certainly be involved with next year's group of students and we look forward to working with Imperial more closely in the future."
"This is something that lectures and textbooks can't teach you. I truly felt that we say firsthand the public health burden placed upon communities that exist on the edge of society." Jinpo Xiang 4th Year BSc Global Health student
Hammersmith Community Gardens Association (HCGA) is a local environmental charity that manages several community gardens in Hammersmith and Fulham. With a range of projects including conservation training schemes, volunteer gardening sessions, and health and wellbeing projects, it proved the perfect placement. Student Jinpo Xiang found his time with the Association rewarding and very different from his learning experience at Imperial thus far.
Jinpo said: "This is something that lectures and textbooks can't teach you. I truly felt that we saw firsthand the public health burden placed upon communities that exist on the edge of society. Groups such as HCGA clearly fulfil an important role - it was very interesting to explore whether their activities helped to reduce GP and hospital visits in the local area."
Imperial's mission to transform health and wellbeing
Earlier this year, Imperial launched a £100m fundraising campaign to support the development of a new School of Public Health at the White City Campus, which will pioneer new approaches to society’s most pressing healthcare challenges across four key areas: World Health, Food and Nutrition, Community Health and Policy, and Children’s Health and Wellbeing.
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