By Wendy Sarubbi | January 22, 2015 11:49 am

Pregnancy and childbirth are one of the leading causes of death for women in developing countries, and the goal of the UCF College of Medicine’s 2015 Global Health Conference is to find ways to change that fact.

The student-organized event is open to medical students across Florida and for the first time will include nursing, pharmacy and public health students. Organizers say such interprofessional training helps healthcare students learn early in their careers to work as teams for the good of their patients. More than 100 students from across the state are expected to attend. “This year’s Global Health Conference will be much more interprofessional as a whole,” said Tommy Tea, a UCF medical student in the class of 2017 who is helping organize the event. “We want everyone involved to be engaged and have hands-on clinical experiences where medical, nursing, pharmacy and public health students can work and learn together.”

The conference will feature simulated birthing sessions and presentations to help students better understand cost-effective ways to improve prenatal nutrition and how cultural beliefs impact how women approach birth and prenatal care. The keynote speaker for the event is former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello, now executive director of public health policy at Florida Hospital. During her tenure as the nation’s top health official, Dr. Novello focused on the healthcare needs of women and children and has also served as a special representative to UNICEF. She will speak on “Healing The Wounds Of War: Women’s Health As A Call To Global Action.”

The College of Medicine’s Clinical Skills and Simulation Center will be the location for multiple simulation sessions related to global health. Students will participate in a simulated birth, where the mother suffers a severe post-partum hemorrhage. Such bleeding is common in the developing world, where women often give birth at a young age and without the help of trained healthcare providers. This has made post-partum bleeding the leading cause of maternal death in the developing world. Students will also work with computerized simulated newborns that have difficulty breathing after birth. Such breathing difficulties are a frequent emergency in low resource settings. In addition to learning from simulated patients, participants will work with UCF standardized patients – actors who play a variety of patient roles to help train medical students. The actors will portray international patients with various cultural and religious beliefs about birth, reproduction and prenatal nutrition. Global Health conference participants will work with the standardized patients to gain a deeper understanding of the role of cultural beliefs in health and how to communicate in an effective, nonjudgmental and educational way with patients whose beliefs may be vastly different from their own.

Several student leaders of UCF’s Global Health event have first-hand experience helping pregnant women in the developing world. Each year, students in the College of Medicine MedPACt organization – Medical Students Providing Across Continents – travel to the Dominican Republic on medical mission trips where they set up clinics in impoverished communities. Last summer, UCF nursing, medical and engineering students went to the Dominican Republic along with University of Florida pharmacy students to care for community needs. UCF medical student Faith Villaneuva of the class of 2017 said she saw many examples of how pregnancy and delivery are treated in developing countries. In some Latin American countries, Caesarean sections are becoming the preferred method of delivery both for physician convenience and patient perception that they result in less risk to the mother. Villaneuva said she and other students, working with Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, the MedPACt advisor and an obstetrician-gynecologist, were able to discuss the option of vaginal delivery. Many of the Dominican Republic women were unaware that the C-section was major surgery with associated risks. “Our goal was to help them weigh the pros and cons so they could understand their options as far as their health,” Villaneuva said.

In the Dominican Republic, medical and nursing students also worked with young women who were pregnant as a result of incest and rape. As visitors, Villaneuva said students had a kind of anonymity in the close-knit rural communities that allowed women to talk honestly about culturally taboo subjects and seek assistance.

Even if healthcare students don’t travel and care for patients abroad, the Global Health Conference is valuable because of Florida and Orlando’s diverse population, students say. As Class of 2017 M.D. student Audrey Avila explained, “We always emphasize that you’re going to see and practice global health even if you never leave Orlando.”

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