Feature Stories 2022: Global Health minors experienced real-world issues firsthand during the pandemic

First graduates of the Global Health minor in the nursing lab
Hannah Eugenio '22 (left) and Lydia Toucette '22 added the Global Health minor to their nursing studies and had an unprecedented firsthand learning experience during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Feature Stories 2022: Global Health minors experienced real-world issues firsthand during the pandemic
Global Health minors experienced real-world issues firsthand during the pandemic

First graduates of the program—open to all majors—reflect on their valuable and unexpected learning opportunities

As the world struggled to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic that erupted in the early months of 2020, UMass Dartmouth nursing majors Lydia Touchette and Hannah Eugenio were halfway through their studies. Coincidentally, after years of planning, the College of Nursing & Health Sciences introduced the Global Health minor a few months later. To broaden their awareness of health on a global scale, Eugenio and Touchette added the minor and found that there was no better time to study and experience the interconnectedness of worldwide health issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was the quintessential example of the importance of studying global health,” said Eugenio ’22 of Middleboro, MA. “We were able to delve into the immense interconnectedness of health for all, as well as focus on the burden of disease, social determinants of health, socioeconomic development, and human rights. We were able to learn and see firsthand the toll that access to health, or lack thereof, can have on communities on a global scale.” 

“Learning about global health during a global pandemic is a rather engaging choice of study,” said Touchette ’22 of Southampton, MA. “On one hand, I was balancing what I was learning about epidemiology and global health while seeing the effects play out in real life. It allowed me to understand the complexity of health care systems, especially when many were stretched so thin.”

Open to all majors and administered by the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, UMass Dartmouth’s minor in Global Health is designed to provide undergraduates with multidisciplinary exposure to the theoretical, scientific, and practical issues affecting health on a global stage, including the major disparities, determinants, policies, and outcomes across the world.

In addition to increasing knowledge about pandemics, natural disasters, and climate-related changes, global health minors from all disciplines can benefit from understanding the interconnectedness of current global health problems, epidemiology, social determinants of health, human rights, and socioeconomic development. One of the primary objectives of the program is to facilitate a greater depth of understanding of the determinants and solutions to global health challenges.

The Global Health minor prepares students for graduate study in this field as well as careers in research, epidemiology, and public health. The minor also provides a valuable foundation for those who plan advanced specialist health training in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, psychology, allied health, or public health.

Minor launched successfully during an unexpected global health crisis

“Being the first students through a class, or even a program, is difficult enough but being the first students through a program that was newly navigating the online world of Zoom was something entirely different,” said Touchette. “However, Professor [Maryellen] Brisbois and Dr. [Dorothy] Dunn (retired) worked hard to put the program together encompassing a variety of learning methods that taught the material in an interactive way. I personally appreciated writing papers and discussion posts, as it allowed me to choose a country to study in detail and to understand the complexities of that country.”

“Some of the classes that I enjoyed were Introduction to Global Health and Introduction to Epidemiology because they were great preliminary courses that allowed for wide-ranging discussion on the basic level of health throughout the world population,” said Eugenio. “I also loved Emerging Trends in Global Health and Health Care Systems because they provided me with an understanding of public health issues and how our current health care services deal with these needs. 

“Both Professor Brisbois and Dr. Dunn provided me with the knowledge I needed to be successful in this minor. They are both extremely knowledgeable, passionate, and willing to share their experiences in global health,” Eugenio added.

For the minor, students must complete 18 credits that include four required courses and two electives approved by the college.

Experiential learning opportunities adapted to “reining in” the disease at home

The college offers local and international experiential learning opportunities for students. An exchange program created by Brisbois called “Bridging the Atlantic: International Alliance in Community Health Nursing with the University of the Azores” offers nursing students in the U.S. and Portugal the opportunity to improve health conditions in both countries.

While Touchette and Eugenio were unable to travel during the pandemic, they had plenty of experiential learning opportunities as they assisted in local vaccination clinics and educated patients about preventing the spread of the disease in their Community Health nursing class.

“During that semester, I was able to administer dozens of COVID vaccines, provide primary prevention, and teach about the pandemic. From a global health perspective, I played a small part in reining in the pandemic and I will remember that as being an early and foundational part of my nursing training,” Touchette said. 

“While studying global health, I was also working in the ICU as a nursing assistant during the pandemic. Seeing the effects of COVID-19 through real-life experiences and class discussions gave me a greater appreciation of the impact of health equity and the importance of engaging in ways to promote health and wellness for all,” Eugenio added. 

According to Brisbois, the unexpected timing proved advantageous. “Our first graduates were immersed in the full arc of global health,” she said. “They observed the worldwide spread of disease firsthand, educated local patients about prevention and controlling its spread, and participated in efforts to mitigate the virus with newly-developed vaccines. Like the pandemic, this learning opportunity was unprecedented.”  

In addition to vaccination clinics, both Eugenio and Touchette completed clinical rotations at local hospitals in MA and RI and at community centers. Eugenio also participated in COVID-19 surveillance and tracing systems.

Minor prepares graduates for a range of health-related occupations and settings

Students planning health and health-related careers in research, teaching, or health services in a variety of settings including universities, government agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, or private industry are supported by the minor.

Both Eugenio and Touchette plan to apply their knowledge and experiences in global health as nurses; Eugenio is currently working as an RN in the ICU at St; Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford and Touchette is an RN in an emergency department in Springfield, MA. 

“While emergency medicine and public health seem at odds, they are woven together,” said Touchette. “Solid public health programs can prevent emergencies from progressing too far. Understanding the failings of a health care system sheds light on why patients return to the emergency room repeatedly. Being aware of how our global health system works will allow me to better understand my patients and will make me a better nurse overall.” 

“I will be able to utilize my global health skills, such as implementing what I have learned about access and quality of care, determinants of health, and decreasing the burden of disease, in order to promote holistic care for patients within my community and beyond,” Eugenio said.

“The program was able to build upon, and enhance, my knowledge of the interrelation of the burden of disease, especially through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added. “As citizens living through historical events, we will continue to see the immense need for understanding and engagement in global health issues. As global citizens, I believe anyone can relate to, and learn from, the Global Health minor.”