Author Archives: Robin Young

The Power of Community, Connection and Communication

We love hearing from CFHI Almuni about how their global health immersion experience impacted them as health providers.  This month we’re sharing the reflections of Magdalene Kuznia. Maggie   participated in the Tropical Medicine & Community-Based Care on the Coast of Mexico program in Puerto Escondido.  She’s currently a clinical nurse at Stanford University, and a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

As a nursing student I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Escondido with CFHI. I was looking to broaden my nursing education experience. Faculty at my school recommended that I spend a summer working with CFHI so that I can better understand community health in nursing and improve my Spanish. The other CFHI scholars on my program were two physician-assistant students, and one student applying to medical school. It was fun for me to work with other pre-health students, especially ones that were going into different fields in medicine. We each had varying levels of Spanish and knowledge of medicine, so we were all able to learn from each other.

The first few weeks we rotated at different primary care clinics or “Centros de Salud.” I was in a nearby clinic that usually had two doctors and two nurses. The nurses would triage the patients, and then the doctor would see about 10 to 20 patients for about 20 to 30 minutes. The nurses there had autonomy to decide which patients saw the doctor that day, which streamlined the process for the doctor. I loved watching how the healthcare providers interacted with their patients. Appointment time was crucial, since most patients only came in to see the doctor when something was wrong. The doctor had minimal time to provide teaching on the ailment and healthier lifestyle practices. The nurses were able to compliment the doctors sick-care with wellness counseling.

My last few weeks my colleagues and I were together in the hospital. I think some of my favorite experiences were in the labor and delivery unit. The people of Puerto Escondido do not celebrate birth in the hospital like Americans do – the unit had about 10 beds all in one line with each other. The nurses’ station faced the beds, and the doctor would come by and assess down the line which patient was ready to give birth next. There were no men allowed, and the only private room was where the patient was transported to for the actual labor part. The mother hoisted herself on the delivery table, and hoisted herself off when the baby arrived. None of the healthcare workers celebrated outwardly when a baby was born; the mother later received her baby and went on with her day. However, one man was so excited to have his first child, he snuck on to the unit to visit his wife and baby. The new parents were so excited and burst into tears of joy. The nurses allowed them to have their time together and then promptly shooed the man away to give the other patients their privacy. Their touch of excitement broke up the hustle and bustle of the day.

In nursing school, we discussed often the importance communicating on the same level as our patients. While we are educated in medical terminology, many people are not. As nurses, it is our focus to translate the medical language and apply it to our patients’ world. Puerto made this layer an important challenge for me. My Spanish skills were put to the test as I did my best to understand the common language of the people and the medical language of the health care practitioners. My Spanish going into the trip was purely conversational at best. My first weeks in Puerto I was able to physically see the affects of the disease or trauma on the patient, but later I became much better at listening to how the ailment affected the patient personally. CFHI offered us medical Spanish classes in the afternoons, which helped us piece together some of the issues we saw in the clinic or hospital earlier that day. I definitely saw an improvement in my Spanish-speaking skills by the end of the trip.

To this day, I still dream of the food that I ate and the beaches I ventured. Additionally, my time in Puerto ensured how I much loved taking care of different populations. It was a challenge taking care of people with a different language than myself. As a nurse today, I am constantly humbled by what I have to learn from others, and I am so happy my time in Puerto helped open me up to what the world can teach us.

Thoughts on Experiences in Global Health: Synthesizing perspectives from students, the literature, and global communities

CFHI is honored to receive interns from around the world at our offices in San Francisco. This summer we have the pleasure of welcoming Alessandra Khodaverdi from the University of San Francisco. Alessandra is a Master of Public Health student who is deeply passionate about traveling and ensuring global health equity. During and after her internship, she hopes to integrate CHFI’s guiding principles of sustainability, humility, and reciprocity into her own work on community and global health disparities to build a better future for all.

Greetings! I am Alessandra Khodaverdi, an MPH student from the University of San Francisco. I am currently in my final program semester, and am finishing my current capstone project on health equity and access from the lens of undocumented migrant workers in host countries. Recently, I participated in an internship through the United Nations-mandated University of Peace in Costa Rica. This short-term experience in global health (STEGH) made such a profound impact on my life not only as a student, but also sharpened my public health lens as a professional. The first-hand knowledge and education about the integrative aspects of culture, human rights, environment, and sustainable health practices are immeasurable, and I will carry them with me forever.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Short-Term Experiences in Global Health

While high-income countries (HIC) student trainees are embarking on global health experiences in low-and middle-income countries (LMIC) in growing numbers, the perceived benefits and disadvantages for host communities are not well captured. An obvious interest and increased demand for global health education has directly expanded educational programs and STEGHs. However, despite positive intent to gain knowledge and make an impact in developing communities, such STEGHs may actually exacerbate global health inequities. In the absence of clear definitions, standards, impact data, and appropriate conducts, STEGHs may represent a suboptimal use of time and resources, harm the host community, and even perpetuate global health inequities” [4]. Frequently, an array of ethical issues arise when trainees volunteer or are asked to perform tasks beyond their scope of training. Other factors such as  false advertisement by unreliable volunteerism programs, vague admissions criteria, and lack of program and student oversight contribute to an unethical nightmare. This is a particular problem when HIC trainees travel to under-resourced communities where patients are completely unaware that these pre-health students are not actual health professionals, despite the trappings of white coats and scrubs.

A plethora of studies have well-exemplified and highlighted the various benefits of STEGHs for student trainees. Such benefits include increases in skills and confidence, better understanding of the social determinants of health, and dedication to underserved communities back home. As supplemental studies into the underrepresented LMIC voices are desperately needed, a recent CFHI study conducted in La Paz, Bolivia and New Delhi, India revealed important insights into the perspective of LMIC host community members with regards to STEGHs. Benefits for hosts included improvements in job satisfaction, rise in local prestige of physicians and their practices, resource enhancement, and opportunities for global connectedness, leadership skills, and improved local networks and leadership development. Adversely, reported drawbacks for hosting HIC trainees were the perceived hesitancy and apathy of student trainees, unfulfilled promises, lack of cultural sensitivity and equal opportunity. Additionally, the costs of host undertakings continue to go unrecognized despite best practices outlined the Working Group on Ethics Guidelines for Global Health Training (WEIGHT). These WEIGHT guidelines outline and advise the importance of recognizing the true costs in terms of labor, time, and resources for host communities in educational student immersions. [2]

CFHI: Ensuring Reciprocity and Sustainability through Asset-Based Community Engagement and Development

CFHI was designed to prioritize strength-based partnerships, sustainable reciprocal benefits, and clear recognition of costs incurred by host communities. Being that reciprocity and sustainability are central to CFHI’s organizational approach, programs and reciprocal investments in host communities center on the asset-based community engagement/development approach.

With this model, the outsider supports community empowerment by enabling local asset mapping, organizing assets around a mutual agenda, and building consensus toward a shared development goal. The emphasis for support is placed on a community’s existing strengths and potential as the building blocks for success, rather than rewriting the entire script.

As CFHI’s motto is “Let the World Change You,” the organization highlights students as learners, rather than agents of change—as it is imperative that trainees must first understand culture, reality, and context before initiating change. As a future public health professional, these concepts of health equity and sustainability are immensely important, especially in my past work with undocumented women and migrant workers, and future endeavors with vulnerable populations. The most important point I have taken away from both internships so far is the importance of respect —especially for host marginalized communities that invite us to learn. When a mutual respect and cultural understanding is established, it paves the way for open communication, positive leadership, and a true appreciation for the complex challenges and solutions in global health.


[1]  Cherniak, W., Latham, E., Astle, B., Anguyo, G., Beaunoir, T., Buenaventura, J.H., DeCamp, M., Diaz, K., Eichbaum, Q., Hedimbi, M., Myser, C., Nwobu, C., Standish, K., & Evert, J. (2017) Host perspectives on short-term experiences in global health: a survey. The Lancet Global Health, 5(9). DOI:

[2] Evert, J. (2015) Teaching corner: child family health international: the ethics of asset-based global health education programs. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 12(1), p. 63-67. DOI:10.1007/s11673-014-9600-x

[3] Kung, T.H., Richardson, E.T., Mabud, T.S., Heaney, C.A., Jones, E., & Evert, J. (2016). Host community perspectives on trainees participating in short-term experiences in global health. (2016). Medical Education, 50, p. 1122-1130. DOI: 10.1111/medu.13106

[4] Melby, M. K., Loh, L.C., Evert, J., Praterm C., Lin, H., & Khan, O.A. (2016). Beyond medical “missions” to impact-driven short-term experiences in global health: ethical principles to optimize community benefit and learner experience. Academic Medicine, 91(5). DOI:10.1097/ACM.0000000000001009