In 2006, Yogesh Shah was not sure where Belize was located on a map when he responded to a request for Des Moines University (DMU) faculty to accompany medical students there to do service work. This first foray into global health turned into such a success that Dr. Kendall Reed, the Dean of DMU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, decided to create a department of global health to make it easier for students to pursue international rotations. Reed appointed Shah to be the department’s first Associate Dean.
Since then, the global health program has become a draw for DMU, with rotations available at six sites in five countries—Mexico, St. Lucia, South Africa, Uganda and India. DMU also has informal agreements with institutions in other locations, such as Mali and Tanzania. The program, which paved the way for students at the university to be awarded coveted World Health Organization internships, also sponsors annual service trips to underserved countries such as Belize, El Salvador, Haiti and Guatemala.
“I feel my mission is to provide DMU students the opportunity to view health care from a less-privileged international perspective,” says Shah. “In settings where the DMU students can witness people walking an hour and a half just to see a doctor or clinician, they learn directly about health care access and the resulting problems, such as women dying during birth.”
Shortly after his appointment, Shah became curious about what else was going on in global health around the state. He sent out questionnaires, and the responses led to the formation in 2007 of the Heartland Global Health Consortium (HGHC). Members of the consortium share the common assumption that global learning experiences for students and faculty benefit Iowa and the US in the areas of economics, civic engagement and improvement of health outcomes. Shah says the members share the belief that collaboration and sharing of resources, as well as a focus on partnership with other countries, collaborative research, and educational programming, is crucial.
With eight members, including all three public colleges and five private schools in Iowa (Central College, Drake University, Iowa State University, Mercy College of Health Science, Simpson College, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Des Moines University), the consortium convenes an annual global health conference. In addition to hearing from experts in the field, students have the opportunity to present their work. The consortium collaborates with Pioneer, a DuPont business based in Des Moines, and The World Food Prize to sponsor the conference.
Shah says he is amazed at the commitment and interest from young American health care providers. Recently, several gave up time during their own spring break to go to Honduras at their own cost to be part of Global Brigades health mission work.
Dan Deublein, a 2010 graduate of DMU’s physician assistant program, was an EMT/firefighter when he joined a trip to Belize, where he worked with Shah in a makeshift clinic in that drew an estimated 1,200 patients a day. Initially, Deublein’s official duties were triage (he was a trained EMT/firefighter) and Spanish translation, but when Shah learned he wanted to become a physician assistant, he invited him to observe examinations.
Deublein, in a 2010 article in dsm magazine was quoted as saying, “Dr. Shah is not only a wonderful health care provider, but (he) has the heart of a teacher. He teaches you how to effectively link health care, poverty and learning. He helped me understand the impact we have on the world. There are no borders in this world, we are all human, and Dr. Shah clearly recognizes this concept.”
Shah says that getting involved in global health has positively affected his own family, too. When leaving for that first trip to Belize, he asked his daughter to share something of hers and she reluctantly gave up a broken crayon. In the years since, his children (daughter now aged 13 and son 10), have grown to see the world is not just themselves and offer many items to send along on his trips. “They see the world is for all and should be shared,” says Shah.