Three Einstein medical students were part of a team that placed second among 52 university and college groups representing 15 countries in the 2021 Emory Morningside Global Health Case Competition. The annual event challenges teams of college and graduate students to develop hypothetical solutions that address a real-world global health issue.
The six-member team consisted of Einstein medical students Andrew Brook, Chetali Jain, and Scott Wilson; City University of New York School of Public Health students Hanish Kodali and Alexandria Wilkins, and Cardozo School of Law student Heidi Sandomir.
The student teams were given just four days to design a COVID-19 vaccination program and find solutions for challenges such as vaccine hesitancy and inequitable distribution in one of four countries—Bangladesh, Brazil, Japan, or Nigeria. Teams then presented their strategies, acting as if they were leading their chosen country’s public health institute, to a panel of judges who played the role of members of the Vaccine Foundation, a fictional international organization focused on global health initiatives.
The Einstein students chose Nigeria, and targeted its youth through TV ads, a cellphone app, and social media campaigns. They also recommended mobile vaccine units, competition between drug firms, and meetings with local religious leaders.
Adebola Adedimeji, Ph.D., M.B.A., research associate professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein, served as an advisor to the students as they formulated their plan. A native of Nigeria with broad global healthcare experience, Dr. Adedimeji offered critical insights that helped the team understand cultural nuances.
Top Placements Two Years in a Row
Einstein’s teams have placed among the top three for two years in a row at the annual competition, sponsored by Emory University and the Morningside Foundation. “The 2020 and 2021 teams have placed the highest of any of our teams since Einstein began entering the competition nine years ago,” said Jill Raufman, M.P.H, M.S., director of the Medical Student Global Health Programs and associate director of the Global Health Center. “And they did so under stressful conditions amid a global pandemic. The students always tell me it is one of the best learning experiences they have ever had. And they see how valuable it is to work as a member of an interdisciplinary team.”
The competition is open to Einstein students at all levels among M.D., Ph.D., and M.D./Ph.D. programs, but one of the competition’s requirements is that each team includes representatives from three areas of study within a school. This year’s team members were from Einstein, Cardozo and, for the first time, the CUNY School of Public Health. Einstein was given special permission to include students from CUNY because of the schools’ recent collaboration to offer Einstein students a combined M.D./M.P.H degree program.
Because of the pandemic, the eight teammates never met in person. “We used Zoom, Groupme, Google Drive, Google Slides, and Google Docs,” said Mr. Kodali, the CUNY doctoral student. Added Mr. Wilson, member of Einstein’s Class of 2024, “Last year’s team gave us the lowdown on how to efficiently structure our week. It was among the most fulfilling educational experiences I’ve had.”
Their presentation included a moment of heart-in-throat drama: On the due date, it was still running too long, which meant having to re-record several times and hit “Send” only one minute before the deadline.
Tackling a Measles Outbreak
In 2020, Einstein’s team was tasked with responding to an international measles outbreak in Nigeria, where obstacles to treatment included religious and spiritual objection, misinformation, and government mistrust.
But just four days before the 2020 team—composed of several Einstein medical students, an Einstein Ph.D. student, and a student from Cardozo School of Law—was to fly to Atlanta, word arrived that the competition would be virtual because of the rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic. The team regrouped, sharing documents and conferring via Zoom, and occasionally in person in the Block building.
“We developed a grass-roots campaign with mobile care units, culturally sensitive education pamphlets, folk theater, public messaging, and an app to track surveillance, plus a transdermal patch to assuage people’s fears and make it more transport friendly,” said medical student Soaptarshi Paul, Class of 2023.
As the group fine-tuned their presentation, Ms. Raufman made countless phone calls to find a location that could provide the team with flawless Wifi. She said, “An angel came to our rescue—Karen Goldman, administrator of the Price Center and the department of systems and computational biology.” The presentation took place in a large, state-of-the-art conference room in the Price Center/Block Research Pavilion. It went smoothly, leading to their third-place finish.
Commitment to Global Health
“Einstein is well known for its global health programs and has long supported those that help educate students to the realities of healthcare around the world and build sustainable research and clinical partnerships that help address those challenges,” said Ms. Raufman. “We are immensely proud of how well our students have done in this competition, but we are more impressed by their interest and commitment to global health overall.”
In a typical year, Einstein supports 36 global health programs in 16 countries, involving 85 students and 30 faculty members. Einstein’s programs have spanned the globe—from offering community health services in rural Uganda to conducting research with girls at high risk for teen pregnancy in Chile to supporting diabetes research and education in India. In the last 10 years, more than 900 Einstein medical students have traveled to over 30 countries to learn about other healthcare systems and cultures, provide care, conduct research, initiate projects to help improve health, and build lasting relationships with local organizations and healthcare providers.
As a result of the pandemic, most programs have transitioned to virtual experiences. And earlier this year, the Global Health Center launched a seminar series that addresses numerous global health issues for students, such as the burden of disease in the developing world, and the effects of unbalanced political power and resource control, poverty, and infrastructure challenges on the health of billions of people.
Dr. Adedimeji said he would like to see a global health curriculum offered to all Einstein students, even those who do not travel. “It would be invaluable,” he noted, “because global health issues affect people everywhere, from the far corners of the world to our own Bronx backyard—as evidenced by our current pandemic.”
Editor’s Note: Einstein students should be on the lookout for a notice from Ms. Raufman, which also will be highlighted on our intranet about the opportunity to take part in the 2022 competition.
Posted on: Friday, August 27, 2021