December 15, 2023

Introduction to Foundations of Global Health I and II with Meghan Hofto, M.D.

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HoftoSQUARE 1Meghan Hofto, M.D.Meghan Hofto, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and leader of the Pediatric Underserved and Global Health Scholars program, instructs both the Foundations of Global Health I and Foundations of Global Health II courses.

The UAB Heersink School of Medicine and the UAB School of Public Health recently launched the UAB Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH). Foundations of Global Health I (GHM 601) and Foundations of Global Health II (GHM 602) teach graduate students the essential tools for moving from critically assessing problems in global health policy to developing project proposals that demonstrate concrete solutions in the real world. 

The Heersink communications team met with Dr. Hofto to discuss her journey into global health research and what students can expect from this new program at UAB.

Q: How did you become interested in global health?

I took a medical sociology class in college and learned about Paul Farmer’s work and Partners in Health. I was inspired by everything he did. After that, I knew I wanted global health to be a big part of my career. I had some opportunities to work outside the country in college but didn’t really become involved in global health until medical school. When I chose my pediatric residency, I wanted a program that had a strong global health program, which is how I ended up at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Since then, my global health focus has been primarily on education. I lead the pediatric residency global health program and teach for the Global Health master’s program.

Lately, I’ve enjoyed working with trainees and seeing their excitement about exploring the world of global health. My goal is to ensure that the next generation of pediatricians interested in global health is equipped with the tools they need to succeed, forge effective partnerships, and do it all sustainably, equitably, and ethically.

Q: How did you get connected with UAB?

I looked at UAB because of the location. I did my residency in Cincinnati, but I’m originally from Mobile. My family was still in Alabama, so I was excited to be closer to home.

I came to UAB for my fellowship in Pediatric Hospital Medicine and stayed on as faculty because of the opportunities for career development. The division I work in is also amazing. We have a really supportive, collegial group. My former division director encouraged me to come to UAB for a fellowship using the Gorgas course as an example of the opportunities available for global health. I did the Gorgas course in 2016 during my fellowship, and it was an excellent experience.

Q: Why did you choose to teach the Foundations of Global Health courses?

I was accepted into the Healthcare Educators Academy a couple of years ago and connected with my fantastic mentor, Dr. Meredith Gartin. While I initially joined the program with a different project in mind, we collaborated and developed the Global Health Ethics course. It was offered for the first time in Summer 2023 and will become a core class for the master’s program. Before that, I had never thought about teaching beyond clinical education with residents and medical students. I gained immense satisfaction through that course as I watched the students learn the topics and have those “lightbulb” moments. I indicated to Meredith and Dr. Matthew Heimann that I would be open to teaching additional classes, and the GHM 601 course was intriguing. The course is part of the Global Health Consortium and is run out of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. It utilizes a more European lecture model once a week or so and features regular small group meetings with tutors who facilitate discussion. The lecturers are experts from all over and provide a unique experience for our students. The small group discussions allow students to work with others from another university to dig deeper into the material. Students are expected to lead the discussion while the faculty “tutors” facilitate as needed. I’ve been learning alongside my students during this course!

Q: What can students expect to learn from these courses?

These courses are focused on global health policy analysis and project proposal development. GHM 601 focuses on critical policy analysis using a particular framework, asking how the problem is represented and analyzing that representation. It looks at all the different components, groups, and interests involved. The goal is to evaluate how the ‘problem’ leading to the policy is defined, how the policy came about, and how the policy deals with complex and interactive social inequalities. Students are divided into tutor groups with students from other universities, assigned to “policy clusters,” and work on these analyses. Example topics include eliminating food insecurity or ending poverty, as well as other Sustainable Development Goals. As a result, students learn valuable skills in working with a small group to accomplish a goal, intercultural communication, and flexibility, all of which are vital in global health.

Q: How does GHM 602 build upon GHM 601?

GHM 602 is focused more on proposal development. Students are expected to take the critical analysis lessons they learned in the GHM 601 course, particularly around determining the specific nature of the implied problem, and create a project proposal to request funding to solve the problem. This requires them to use those analysis skills to ensure they address all possible components of their proposal.

Q: What have been some of your favorite moments of teaching GHM 601 this Fall?

I have learned so much this Fall from this course. It’s been gratifying to work with other members of the Consortium and learn from their experiences as we start our program. As a new tutor for this course, I was paired with a more senior tutor from McMaster University in Canada. I really appreciated the opportunity to work with him and hear about his work in global health policy. It’s been so encouraging to watch our students work together with students at other universities to complete their assignments and see how much they’ve learned and grown over the semester. I’ve been so impressed with their hard work and dedication in this challenging course, which has a different structure than we typically see in grad school.

Q: Why is critical analysis an essential skill in Global Health?

Critical analysis is important in any field, but especially in global health. We all enter the field with our own biases, and one of the two graded assignments in both 601 and 602 is a critical analysis of each student’s participation and the evolution of their skills. Global health can contain a lot of different competing interests, all trying to do what’s best for the people. Without critical analysis, it can be tough to even define the problem. That’s the focus of GHM 601. Without a critical analysis of the problem, it can be difficult to propose a solution, and that is the focus of GHM 602. It’s important to be able to analyze all aspects of the issue in order to improve health care outcomes for all.

Learn more about the UAB Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH).