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Doctoral Certificate Is Global Health Gateway for Nursing PhD Students

December 08, 2015

While the Duke Global Health Institute’s Master of Science program is designed to meet the needs of students whose primary focus is global health, the Institute also offers programs for graduate students in other fields who want to explore global health as a complement to their primary academic field. 

The global health doctoral certificate is one of these offerings. And currently, the largest proportion of doctoral certificate candidates comes from the School of Nursing—which is no surprise, given the natural overlap between these two fields.

According to nursing and global health professor Bei Wu, “Nurses are increasingly at the forefront of global health practice implementation, especially given that chronic disease management and care for individuals with chronic disease has become increasingly important. Nurses have a significant impact on health in low- and middle-income countries, and this should also be reflected in our research presence.”

Doctoral Certificate Provides Global Health Opportunities for Students in other Fields 

The global health doctoral certificate requires at least three global health courses covering an overview of the field, research methods and special topics, along with a doctoral seminar and a fieldwork experience. The certificate is available to all Duke PhD students. Doctoral students are encouraged to apply early in their studies to allow sufficient time to complete the courses and field research requirement.

Nursing Students Seamlessly Integrate Global Health into PhD Programs

Currently, six doctoral nursing students are pursuing a global health certificate. This past summer, three of them—Brittney Sullivan, Hanzhang Xu and Kaboni Gondwe—embarked on their fieldwork with grant funding from DGHI. 

Nursing Takes Brittney Sullivan, 2nd Year PhD Student, from Latin America to Africa

Brittney Sullivan’s interest in global health began in high school during a volunteer trip to Bolivia. She continued to visit Latin America as a volunteer and researcher during her undergraduate and master’s degree work at Boston College, travelling to Honduras five separate times. 

These trips inspired her work with the Global Health Service Partnership (a joint effort between Seed Global Health and the Peace Corps). As a part of this program, Sullivan taught pediatric nursing at Mzuzu University in Malawi for a year prior to coming to Duke. She was drawn to Duke to pursue her PhD specifically because the School of Nursing was enthusiastic about her interest in completing her dissertation abroad. 

During her field experiences, Sullivan noticed that despite implementing many of the global health policies and programs, nurses were not well-represented in the research sector. “We provide about 90% of healthcare worldwide, yet only about 1% of nurses hold a doctoral degree and therefore we are not commonly at the forefront of research and policy,” she said. “But we’re usually on the frontlines of providing care during disasters and emergencies, delivering babies and holding the hands of the dying.” 

Sullivan’s fieldwork this past summer took place in Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa. In Rwanda and Kenya, she worked with a Bass Connections team that sought to understand the drivers of scale for health-focused social entrepreneurs and the impact of these organizations in improving the health and healthcare of their target populations. Her work in South Africa, supported by the DGHI doctoral certificate summer research field grant, focused on drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV. She performed quality assurance and quality control at intervention sites for a cluster randomized control trial.

Preventive Care Inspires Hanzhang Xu, 3rd Year PhD Student

Hanzhang Xu’s passion for global health originated during high school when she represented her school in the National Model United Nations (UN) Conference as the delegate for Malawi. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in nursing, Xu began working at a large tertiary hospital in China. Although she enjoyed the direct patient care, she felt limited by what she was able to do. “As a front line nurse, I could only care for one patient at a time, and all of the services I was providing were curative,” she said. “For example, in my job I could provide care to those hospitalized diabetic patients, yet I could not provide primary or secondary prevention to other undiagnosed diabetics or people at high risk of developing into this chronic disease.”

She was inspired by the need for prevention efforts for a variety of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, which have become major global health problems. 

Xu pursued fieldwork this past summer in Shanghai, China, with a Bass Connections project on care needs for dementia patients. The project aimed to understand how well dementia patients were being cared for in addition to the barriers to care among the healthcare providers.

Notion of “Global Village” Draws Kaboni Gondwe, 3rd Year PhD Student, into Global Health

Unlike Sullivan and Xu, Kaboni Gondwe’s inspiration to study global health originated here at Duke. When she saw the research opportunities available in global health during the orientation at the School of Nursing, she knew it was something she needed to do. “Nursing is about caring for the health and quality of life of an individual, families, communities and the larger global village,” she said. “Many health care issues and diseases involve an interplay of so many factors in the global environment.”

This summer, she worked on a pilot study in Malawi, testing instruments for assessing post-traumatic stress and maternal worry following birth, with a particular focus on preterm births. Gondwe hopes that this study will ultimately improve care and outcomes for mothers and infants in Malawi, which has one of the highest preterm birth rates in the world.

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Nursing PhD students and global health doctoral certificate candidates (from left) Hanzhang Xu, Brittney Sullivan and Kaboni Gondwe

Nurses have a significant impact on health in low- and middle-income countries, and this should also be reflected in our research presence.

Bei Wu, nursing and global health professor

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