Push from P&S Students Leads to New Global Health Lecture Series

As the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Texas in 2014, 50 Columbia students had one of the world’s foremost infectious disease experts to themselves in a new global health lecture series.

While Stephen Morse, PhD, professor of epidemiology at Mailman, updated the situation for the students in the inaugural Edgar M. Housepian Global Health Lecture Series, his phone buzzed with calls from reporters.

“Eventually, he silenced it to speak with us,” says Nathan Brand’17, who helped create the series. “It shows we’ve done a good job of creating lectures that are interesting and pertinent to current events.”

Giving students an understanding of the current issues in global health is one of the main goals of the lecture series, which evolved from conversations Mr. Brand had with fellow second-year students David Bridgman-Packer and Rachel Criswell, president of the students’ international health interest group.

“Originally, we had the idea of starting a global health journal club, because we wanted a way to learn the canonical articles in global health and to learn from people who have been in the field,” Mr. Brand says.

Columbia has extensive programs in global health but it is challenging for students to know about everything happening in the field. The students approached Stephen Nicholas, MD, associate dean for admissions at P&S, professor of pediatrics and population & family health, and director of the IFAP Global Health Program and the scholarly projects global health track, who embraced the idea and broadened it into a lecture series. The intention of the series is not only to supplement the P&S curriculum, but also to show students Columbia’s great capacity in global health and to help students find mentors in the field.

The effort resulted in nearly 20 CUMC faculty members collaborating to organize and teach the series. Lectures were given last fall by Columbia experts in global health, including Rachel Moresky, MD, assistant professor of population & family health and of medicine and founding director of CUMC’s International Emergency Medicine Fellowship; Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, University Professor and director of Columbia’s ICAP; and Roy Brown’56, professor emeritus of population & family health, who has worked in more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and served as an adviser to multiple governments.

Each faculty participant also worked with interested students one-on-one. Along with P&S students, students represented Columbia’s School of Nursing, Mailman School of Public Health, College of Dental Medicine, Institute of Human Nutrition, and School of International and Public Affairs. The 50 students were chosen from among 180 students from the CUMC and Morningside campuses who applied to enroll in the series.

“The magnitude of interest by the students in the course has been electrifying,” says Dr. Nicholas. “Faculty on the planning committee, as well as those who have lectured, have been similarly energized. Global health will, and should, be increasingly a priority for those going into medicine.”

The lecture series was presented by IFAP, the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Global Health Initiatives, and the Grodman Dual Degree Program. The series has been named for the late Edgar M. Housepian’53, professor emeritus of clinical neurological surgery at P&S who spent his career at Columbia while championing interdisciplinary global health. He served as special adviser for international affiliations to the P&S dean from 1996 until 2010. He chaired the medical committee of Fund for Armenian Relief, which provides emergency relief and implements long-term programs for the economic growth and social development of Armenia. He helped design a postgraduate medical fellowship program that brought nearly 90 Armenian doctors to the United States for additional training. Before his death in November 2014, Dr. Housepian agreed to lend his name to the series.

The IFAP Global Health Program was founded by Dr. Nicholas in 1999. It supports several programs, including summer internships for medical center students; scholarly projects for medical students; a one-year medical student global health research scholars program; and medical student and resident clinical elective rotations at international sites. The program has sponsored projects in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia on topics that range from post-earthquake health needs assessments in Haiti to an assessment of depression among adolescents with sickle cell disease in Uganda.