SMHS MD Students Win AMA Insurance Global Health Challenge

March 29, 2020

A team featuring George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) MD and health sciences students and alumni won the AMA Insurance Global Health Challenge for its essay and video on global health volunteerism.

The team, named Bread and Olives, was comprised of SMHS research fellow Chapman Wei; MD student Fredrick Martyn; SMHS alumni Refka Al Beyati, MD ’19, and Liqi Shu, MD ’19; and SMHS graduate student Zahra Aligabi.

As the winners, team members will have the opportunity to work with Timmy Global Health — a nonprofit that expands access to health care and empowers students and volunteers to tackle pressing global health challenges — in Ecuador, Guatemala, or the Dominican Republic to help provide high quality health services to underserved populations.

The team’s essay detailed a plan to improve medical volunteer experiences and expand communities’ interest in sustaining adequate health care for their members.

Martyn noted that while U.S. volunteerism can be a useful tool to help underserved populations abroad, if not implemented correctly, “it can be harmful to a community in the long term by creating an over-dependence on foreign intervention and inadvertently impeding development of a community’s existing health infrastructure.”

The most sustainable approach, the team determined, would be “a two-phase plan that would empower local providers and community members in their efforts to elevate and fortify their existing health care systems with minimal outside interference,” according to Aligabi, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Anatomical and Translational Sciences.

They proposed using a “flipped-class-room” model prior to the start of a trip to allow medical volunteers and overseas community leaders to teach each other more effectively and learn about different medical approaches, as well as address the unique health and cultural challenges. 

In addition to the essay, the team members also created a video explaining how the Jimi Hendrix quote “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” is relevant to medicine and how the team members would apply it a global health trip.

Martyn said they chose a more lighthearted approach to their video. “We didn’t want to paint a picture that patients abroad were a helpless group that needed our ‘saving,’ ” he said. “Instead, we wanted to show that our global health initiative would be a collaborative effort between physicians, communities, and patients that would ultimately empower the overseas community to better themselves.”

Aligabi said that being part of the competition was both an honor and a fun experience.  

“We are delighted to have been selected to take part in this journey alongside AMA Insurance and Timmy Global Health,” she said, “as it allows us to be a part of an initiative whose interests and values align with our own in ‘being good doctors by being good human beings.’ ”

In addition to Bread and Olives, another team featuring members of SMHS, “Medical Students for Global Health Equity,” were among the contest’s finalists.

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