Blending global outreach and the health sciences

By JoBen Rivera-Thompson

A group of leadership and health sciences faculty from Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) recently visited St. Vincent and the Grenadines to explore service-learning study abroad opportunities for health sciences students in partnership with Trinity School of Medicine.

In 2021, CGTC began a partnership with Trinity School of Medicine, whose main campus is located on the island. Trinity’s southeast campus is in Warner Robins, where they utilize allocated space in CGTC’s Roy H. “Sonny” Watson Health Sciences Building.  

The partnership between both institutions exists to promote educational opportunities and shared learning experiences. They have been strategizing healthcare improvement locally and abroad since.   

With a population of just over 105,000, the “Island of the Blessed,” as locals call it, shares similar healthcare challenges to rural communities in CGTC’s service area.  

The health sciences curriculum regularly requires students to actively engage in community volunteer healthcare as a response to similar challenges. The college is certain students can take part in addressing areas of need in St. Vincent and the Grenadines through education in a unique study abroad format that accomplishes the same.  

Under this format, study abroad coursework will emphasize learning opportunities and outcomes that are two-fold: to provide a global competency framework for students to gain international cultural perspectives alongside professionals on the island and strengthen a partnership with Trinity that mutually benefits interprofessional development between healthcare disciplines that improve patient outcomes.  

“There is a more urgent need than ever for our students to connect their experiences in regional healthcare with that of the global community,” CGTC Dean of Health Sciences Alvin Harmon said. “The challenges of a pandemic, supply chain issues, and staffing shortages in St. Vincent and the Grenadines mirror communities in Central Georgia.”  

During the trip, the group assessed needs to accommodate study abroad, and met with key leaders, hospital administrators, nursing and dental staff to pinpoint critical areas of need where CGTC students and faculty can build upon their understanding of global healthcare and support in terms of educating the public.  

“We’ve found the biggest area of support our students and faculty can immediately make an impact on the island is with healthcare education for both patients and staff,” CGTC Director of Nursing Jessica Willcox said. “These hard-working Vincentians are stretched thin for resources and so much more, and for us to share stories to let them that we know exactly what that feels like, let them know we are both compassionate and committed.” 

Volunteering to provide healthcare education is a standard of community health curriculum that students must achieve. Conversations on the island proved to the division of health sciences that this volunteerism is just as welcome there as it is at CGTC.  

“Given the beauty of the island and its people, I am certain our students will be excited to serve on the island,” Willcox said.  

In addition to nursing, Rick Ellis, program chair of emergency medical technician program, and Kelly Scruggs, program chair for dental hygiene, learned how their specialties can contribute.  

Healthcare practitioners on the island expressed a keen interest in sharing knowledge about emergency medical and dental care — two areas of emphasis that Vincentian healthcare has recently explored collaborative efforts to improve.   

 The conclusion gathered from all sides is that CGTC and Trinity can help.   

“This unique, hands-on study abroad experience will be a monumental first for the CGTC community and will certainly extend our global outreach in terms of workforce development,” Marketing and International Outreach Coordinator JoBen Rivera-Thompson said. “We know that when students return as engaged, global citizens, employability improves, they stay connected to communities, they are active in philanthropy and individual work ethic increases in value. Ultimately, a more diverse, globally competent student benefits both the regional and global workforce.”  

The division of health sciences and global initiatives envision a study abroad experience where students in advanced coursework of nursing, dental hygiene, and emergency medical technicians provide volunteer service in clinics, educating the public on local healthcare concerns and developing projects to synthesize their learning.  

Global initiatives anticipates a January 2023 start date for programming.

This article originally appeared here.

JoBen Rivera-Thompson

is the coordinator of marketing and international outreach at Central Georgia Technical College.