Global interprofessional education at UMB

by Jody K. Olsen, Social Work/UMB*


Global health, by definition and necessity, is a collaborative field. But we often struggle to bridge the gap between this knowledge and building collaborative teams as effective teamwork requires training in soft skills such as perseverance, openness, sharing, and respecting. These are not the didactic or hard skills with which global health educators often feel most comfortable teaching but without which collaboration risks collapse. This theme was identified and highlighted at the UMB Center for Global Education Initiatives (CGEI) sponsored Roundtable in October 2013 on the UMB campus that focused on interprofessional global health education. During the one day event, national global health and interprofessional education experts grappled with what collaborative skills are essential for global health, how best to these identified skills, and how to measure success in this area. These experts commented:

  • “Global health students need to know how to work in teams, and educators need to teach them how.”
  • “In many cases the greatest challenge to the success of interprofessional education is the collaborative component.”
  • “An essential first step in building a healthy team is … recognizing, respecting, and honoring the differences among the team members as strengths they bring.”
Two UMB students interact with a Malawian child during a recent interprofessional global health project. Courtesy of Jody Olsen

Two UMB students interact with a Malawian
child during a recent interprofessional
global health project. Courtesy of Jody Olsen

Interprofessional global health grant program

Partially as a result of the Roundtable, faculty members took on the challenge of modeling interprofessional collaboration and team building within global health by partnering with the UMB President’s office and the six professional schools (dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work) to facilitate an Interprofessional faculty and student Global Heath Grant Award program. Based on UMB’s previous four years of experience with interprofessional global health facilitating annual six-week projects in Malawi, Africa, the Center is now in its second year of this competitive grant program. In these two years, the Center has funded 18 different one- to six-week projects in ten different countries: Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia, the Gambia, Ghana, China (Hong Kong), England, Brazil, and Israel. A total of 24 faculty members have mentored 72 students on these projects, representing all six professional schools.

The critical component of each project is its interprofessional collaborative framework. Each project must be interprofessional, which the Center defines as including at least two participating students from two different UMB schools. Some projects include four or five students, representing three to four different schools.

Two Rwandan dental students working during a visit with a UMB team in summer 2014. Courtesy of Jody Olsen

Two Rwandan dental students working during a visit with a UMB team in summer 2014. Courtesy of Jody Olsen

In the fall and spring, faculty members can apply to CGEI for interprofessional global health grants of up to $10,000 to cover project expenses. Once faculty members are selected, their projects are posted and students then apply for student grants to participate in these projects. Student grants fund international travel, visas, and immunizations.

The individual projects and preparation emphasize both the collaborative hard and soft skills of interprofessional global health programs. Each includes:

  • A research design,
  • A partner in the host country to facilitate the project activity and logistical support,
  • Pre-departure IPE team building preparation,
  • In-country technical, cross-cultural, IPE team activities,
  • Post-project presentations, articles, and the adaption of lessons learned to subsequent campus and Baltimore academic activities

The interprofessional projects represent a wide range of research-related global health topics and have a specific, limited scope to match the short time frame. Projects include, for example:

  • Evaluation and Interprofessional Collaboration: Human Resources for Health (Rwanda),
  • Examining Palliative Care in China (Hong Kong),
  • Community Based Perception of Out-of-Hospital Emergency Care Needs (Kenya),
  • Social Justice and Health: Are they Related in my Community? (Israel),
  • Interprofessional Care Teams in Salvador, Brazil: A Transferable Model of Care (Brazil)? and
  • The Impact of Involuntary Maternal Psychiatric Hospitalization on Children’s Care: An Interprofessional Research Project (UK).

We have learned much about team building and collaboration through this program so far, particularly as a result of debriefs with participating faculty and students. We are now highlighting the following themes in a short faculty orientation video now in production:

  • Global health projects are very human undertakings and therefore require a focus on soft, interpersonal team skills to encourage

o   getting along in different professional contexts,

o   respecting each other professionally and personally while working and living together, and

o   showing trust, patience, flexibility, humor, and humility toward each other and toward in-country colleagues.

  • Poor group dynamics can overshadow the best-designed project.
  • Attention to building and sustaining teams parallels building technical project components.
  • Students consistently ask for social interaction before traveling overseas, separate from required didactic requirements.
  • Stress of travel, being in a completely different environmental context, being with new people of different professions, and working on unfamiliar projects create intense group dynamics.
  • Students have expressed need to reflect both individually and in informal group settings. Faculty members should encourage opportunities for these reflections.

Creating and institutionalizing this interprofessional grant program on campus is creating a dynamic and unique way to operationalize a critical theme in global health: collaboration. The grant program, which is supported by the university President and the campus Deans is creating a body of faculty dedicated to interprofessional education and cross campus collaboration.**


*Jody K. Olson, PhD, MSW, is a Visiting Professor at the School of Social Work. For many years, she was with the Peace Corps starting as Volunteer in Tunisia and rising to Acting Director in the Obama administration. Her Ph.D. is from the College of Education at UMCP.

**For information about the grants, participating faculty, CGEI faculty members, and program parameters, go to: . To access the article and special issue highlighting the results of the October 2013 Roundtable, go to:



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