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Home » Neglected Tropical Diseases » The benefits of building an international academic culture in tropical medicine

Dr Jill Weatherhead

Director of Medical Education, National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

Online education programmes encourage collaboration between international healthcare professionals. It’s a powerful way to grow knowledge and skills in tropical medicine.

The world needs more expertise in the field of tropical medicine. Yet because tropical diseases disproportionately affect the poor, many healthcare professionals are unfamiliar with this branch of science and have never diagnosed or treated tropical disease patients.

This must change says Dr Jill Weatherhead, Assistant Professor of Paediatrics (Tropical Medicine) and Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and Director of Medical Education at the National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) at Baylor College of Medicine. The institution, based in Houston, USA, was founded by Dr Peter Hotez, and attracts healthcare professionals including medical students, residents, fellows, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others who want to pursue further education in tropical medicine.

Building an international culture to advance learning

“It’s the job of educators to fill the tropical medicine knowledge gap and equip healthcare professionals with the tools to deliver better health outcomes in resource-poor settings,” says Dr Weatherhead.

“Healthcare professionals need the skills to be able to recognise tropical diseases and provide excellent, culturally appropriate clinical care. They also have to know how to build research platforms that advance tropical medicine-related science and — utilising their science communication skills — advocate for poor communities who are often voiceless and overlooked. Our robust three month curriculum focuses not only on obtaining tropical medicine knowledge but learning how to directly apply this knowledge in practice through real world case studies and laboratory-based practicums.”

We can learn from each other about how these diseases present and how best to diagnose, treat and study them.

When the global pandemic placed restrictions on in-person teaching, The NSTM at Baylor College of Medicine was forced to move many of its educational resources online. That has been an opportunity, rather than a challenge, insists Dr Weatherhead.

“Our online curriculum facilitates medical professionals from all over the world and has helped foster an international culture,” she says. “Because the cohort includes healthcare practitioners from different countries — who see a range of neglected tropical diseases based on their global region — we can learn from each other about how these diseases present and how best to diagnose, treat and study them. This type of environment, which brings people together to grow their expertise, sparks creativity and progresses science.”

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