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UKIC / Global Health Initiatives / Shoulder to Shoulder Global going online: Student Brigade Experiences Ecuador Virtually

Shoulder to Shoulder Global going online: Student Brigade Experiences Ecuador Virtually

Sunday, February 21, 2021 | By Facundo Luque, Andrea Gils

Have you ever seen a virtual international healthcare experience that engages you with an underserved community and time in clinic? UK virtual health brigades are the place to make that happen. They are the first of their kind.

UK’s Shoulder to Shoulder Global (STSG), in direct collaboration with the community of Santo Domingo, Ecuador and an interprofessional UK faculty leadership team, offered its second virtual health brigade experience January 4-8, where students, faculty, staff and community members participated in a unique transformative, educational and cultural experience.  

STSG is a UK Global Health Initiatives organization that integrates academic and community partners to improve the health and well-being of an underserved community in Ecuador. Every year STSG provides in-person global brigades, where students travel to the Latin country to work in an interprofessional environment. However, this had to be re-envisioned given the new realities and limitations due to COVID-19.

During five days, UK students participated in multiple virtual interactive and interprofessional experiences, including a virtual presence in live clinical consults, cultural learning such as making ceviche and professional salsa dancing lessons, an overview of the Ecuadorian health system, tours, and talks with the community.

This unique international virtual experience offered the opportunity to work in a multicultural and interdisciplinary setting, connect with a different community and discover new ways to think and work in healthcare.

“This program allows them to learn a lateral way of thinking to solve problems; thinking outside of what they're learning in school or how they've been taught in the U.S. by seeing there might be another way to do things,” said Craig Borie, UK Global Health Initiatives program manager.

This experience is not limited to healthcare students. Many Wildcats from across colleges joined, such as Grace Brecht, an undergraduate student in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD).

“This was incredibly useful for my future career,” Brecht said. “I think that this experience not only taught me about how to interact with people from other cultures, but it also helped me how to interact with patients from all socio-economic levels and recognize people's life experiences since this is pertinent to understanding how to treat them.”

Nikki Kindred, a graduate student participant studying international security and intelligence, said she was able to gain insight into different aspects beyond the clinic atmosphere.

“This brigade has helped advance my career in the manner of teaching me the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation,” Kindred said.

One challenge and benefit of participating in this program is that students learn to problem solve with limited resources, Borie said.

“In parts of Ecuador, they don’t always have all of the equipment that we have here [in the United States],” Borie said. “Being able to watch (Ecuadorian providers) treat and understand a patient in a limited resource setting makes students better clinicians back in the U.S.. They might not tovar able to run a test to find out what's going on with that patient. They can learn to listen to the patient to understand what's happening.”


Kindred said the online brigade was highly interactive.

“We were given multiple days that covered in clinic visits and conversations with the community,” Kindred said. “There was pre-brigade work that prepared us for the live portion. The items studied acquainted us with not only the culture as a whole, but with the clinic’s personnel and vital leaders in the community. We also learned how to work with multiple virtual tools that expanded our knowledge.” 

Unlike the in-person brigades where the groups are usually big, Borie explained that this time students interacted directly with community members by having more personalized time virtually, with small groups where they could ask questions and talk to group leaders.

“We weren't actually in Ecuador but we got to see what Ecuador was like just through how warm, friendly and passionate Ecuadorian people were about their country and their people,” Brecht said. “Additionally, professors were there to support and guide us through the process making everything really enriching. I still feel like I challenged myself a lot and I gained a lot from it.”

To future participants, Kindred recommended to come with an open mind. “You must be willing to adapt and be willing to compromise,” Kindred said.

“You should do it because you're definitely going to get a lot out of it,” Brecht said. She added that “this program is a career-changing experience because it gives you a whole new perspective on the healthcare system and how to treat your patient.”


2021 Shoulder to Shoulder Global In-Person Brigades to Ecuador

The next STSG brigades, which will be in-person, are May 14 – 23, June 11 – 20, and August 6 – 15. Application information and a short video about the program are available at the STSG website.