MUSC team reflects on Emory University Global Health case competition

By Rahoul Ahuja

This past March, MUSC had the unique opportunity to partake in Emory’s Global Health Case Competition. The Case Competition gave students a significant global health issue to tackle—gun violence in Honduras, which is the 3rd leading cause of death in Honduras. Teams had one week to devise innovative and efficacious solutions to the problem, and would present them to judges at Emory. But here’s the catch: the teams had to comprise students from three different disciplines. MUSC’s team had three medical students, one occupational therapy student, one engineering student (from Clemson University), and one health administration student.

This gave students valuable insights into the type of work that goes into designing public health programs, as well as an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with people from different backgrounds. This is key, particularly since the paradigm of public health is changing: solutions no longer come from just within the health sector. In today’s dynamic global health landscape, public health must draw upon expertise from multiple disciplines—ranging from economics, finance, law, engineering, and healthcare—in order to advance human health worldwide. The competition helped us as future health professionals appreciate the unique role of interdisciplinary cooperation.

As our team started to tackle the issue, we started to realize how challenging it was; namely, there are so many factors that affect gun violence: employment, education, health care, gender inequalities, social norms, etc. We chose to focus on addressing youths early in their lives in the education system. This is particularly important to prevent them from being recruited by gangs in Honduras, perpetuating a cycle of violence. We looked at engaging youths through after-school programs, such as through participation in soccer leagues, as well as mentorship programs. What’s key is to address social determinants of health, such as education, living conditions and employment opportunities.

We also examined the role that reforming the judicial system could have. In Honduras, for instance, only three percent of murders are investigated by police, and only one percent result in a prosecution. Without an ability to hold people accountable and investigate corruption, a country’s capacity to reduce gun violence is undermined.

While working together with our team, we saw how well all our backgrounds complemented each other. One of our teammates, Matthew Husband, brought a year’s worth of experience addressing social determinants of health and HIV in South Africa. Cultivating these on-the-ground perspectives is key to making local solutions tailored to a country’s unique sociopolitical and cultural context, and that experience was useful for devising our solutions. Dominique Cox, a health administration student, brought valuable insights into budgeting and financing that helped us make sure our solutions were financially feasible. Working together with a group in this case competition is also an exercise in humility. Each of our teammates brings a valuable skill set, but we also needed to be keenly aware of what we didn’t know, and know how our other teammates could fill in those gaps.

Overall, we did an excellent job of putting together our presentation and communicating our ideas to the judges. It was an invaluable experience, not just because of the people we connected with (each other, and at Emory), but also through what we learned from being challenged to think of solutions to pressing health issues. Reading about how to address these issues is like learning a foreign language in classroom setting. Actually working with a team to devise innovative solutions and present it was like living in a foreign country to learn the language. Moving forward, we hope to apply what we learned from this case competition with our concurrent studies—as well as future work in health policy—and help society reach the right solutions to advance human health worldwide.

Here’s what other members of the MUSC team said:

Matthew Husband, MUSC Occupational Therapy student
“The Emory Global Health Case Competition was a wonderful experience for our team. We were given a case a week before the competition, met with a team that has never worked together and put together a 15 minute presentation about how to limit the effects of gun violence in Honduras. Although the work was intense, meeting peers with a passion to make a difference in global health was invaluable and knowing that our recommendations could be implemented in Honduras is very exciting.”

William Dennis, MUSC medical student
"For me the greatest takeaway from the competition was learning the importance of adaptability.  We had researched the case topic for several days but, after a meeting with an Emory faculty advisor at 5:00 PM the day before the competition, we decided to revise our original plan entirely.  Being able to reconfigure all the work we had previously done to fit our new model was essential to finishing the presentation on time."

Rahoul Ahuja is a third year medical student who led a multidisciplinary team of students in the Emory Global Health Case Competition in March.