Health Care, Higher Education, and Nonprofits

MSU med students gain insight

May 30, 2014
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Michigan State University medical students were encouraged recently to consider another option upon graduation: practicing medicine in a rural environment.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine last month hosted an event at its Secchia Center in which Dr. Glenn Geelhoed, surgeon and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization Mission to Heal, discussed globally sustainable health care infrastructure and his experience in rural medical practice. The event was transmitted to MSU’s East Lansing campus so medical students and health care professionals could participate in the discussion.

Geelhoed explained various aspects of Third World medicine and the type of situations a health professional might experience in the field. He also spoke about Mission to Heal and outlined his philosophy on how to conduct medical missions.

Josh VanderWall, a third-year medical student at MSU, said the second half of the event focused on health-related issues in developing countries.

“It was more toward medical students — some of the different diseases that are there and what place a student has out in that mission field,” said VanderWall.

Founded in 2010, Mission to Heal was established as a way to respond to a medical need that Geelhoed recognized after decades of medical missions to developing countries, and to engage others in the opportunity to help.

Mission to Heal seeks to empower individuals who are already coping and thriving in an area with few resources, rather than take over their health care system and create dependency. The organization aims to facilitate sustainable health care systems by enhancing the capabilities of clinics through service and donated materials.

“I call it ‘gifts from the poor’ because, in fact, everyone has an idea going on of what helps someone. Only after a short time do you realize how much the exchange has been in the other direction,” said Geelhoed.

“In fact, the majority of learning comes from the direction of the developing world to the developed one.”

In Geelhoed’s experience, health care models in developing countries focus on solving problems in an efficient and affordable way, which results in a sustainable model with little redundancy. He said the ability to thrive on very few resources is a necessary skill in such regions.

“They know how to cope, they can take care of bigger problems in larger numbers with their resources, which is what we have to learn,” said Geelhoed. “We can’t continue indefinitely just simply expanding that piece of our pie that is health care … and expect that it isn’t impacting the rest of the economy — as it already has, naturally bankrupting the world’s largest economy ever seen.”

VanderWall said the topic of global sustainable health care is relevant to the current climate in the country since many medical students and health professionals are entering the field at a time of uncertainty for the nation’s health care system.

“You can’t turn on the radio without hearing about issues with spending in health care and what is the right way to fix it.”

As a two-time participant with Mission to Heal, VanderWall said the experience has certainly opened his eyes.

“The opportunity to work with people … they trust you, really look forward to seeing you there and are extremely grateful,” said VanderWall. “But at the same time, you have the opportunity to learn so much from them. It was an opportunity to both enhance my learning by quite a bit, but also a way to develop relationships that really couldn’t happen anywhere else.”

“The commonality of this experience allows people to really relate on a whole new level,” said Geelhoed. “I want to make sure they … see these people as not simply, ‘Well, they learned how to get along without certain stuff,’ which of course is going to be true; what they got from them is the richness in their relationships. I get in there and show them the real professors.”

Originally from Grand Rapids, Geelhoed studied at Calvin College and the University of Michigan Medical School. He completed a surgical internship at Harvard and residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. Currently, he is a professor of surgery, international medical education, microbiology and topical medicine at George Washington University.

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