College of Medicine and Ghana’s MountCrest University College begin collaborative relationship

February 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm 4 comments

Penn State College of Medicine recently signed an agreement with MountCrest University College (MCU) to assist the school in becoming the first private medical school in Ghana.

According to Samuel Akortey Akor, deputy rector and dean of MCU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, the collaboration allows the school to open its doors to medical students this year.

“It offers opportunity for both MountCrest and Penn State students to gain cross-cultural experiences in the practice of medicine through student exchange programs,” he said. “Partnerships like this are important to medical students because it instills understanding and confidence in the practice of medicine under different conditions and environments, keeping in mind the pursuit of excellence at all times.”

MCU’s long term goal is the transformation of medical education and medical practice by infusing humanistic care in the entire health services delivery system in Ghana.

According to Dr. Ben Fredrick (’00), director of the Global Health Center at the College of Medicine, MountCrest has an effective vision for healthcare in Ghana – that of the humanistic physician.

Fredrick had previously visited Ghana to explore opportunities and in November 2013 was contacted by Kwaku Ansah-Asare, the dean and founder of MCU.

“It became clear that this would be a unique and exciting opportunity for our campus to help a new medical school in another country to develop its curriculum and help it support its faculty development,” Fredrick said. “The needs for health clinicians in Africa are enormous, and so this institution is going to start to meet the needs of health professionals in Ghana.”

Representatives from MCU visited Penn State Hershey in anticipation of starting the new medical school.

“They came away really impressed with what they saw and were very pleased with the models of medical education that we provide here,” Fredrick said.

Penn State Hershey leadership also visited MountCrest last spring. Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for educational affairs; Dr. Dan Wolpaw, director of the Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine; and Dr. Wenke Hwang, director of Master of Public Health programs visited MCU and the U.S. ambassador to Ghana to support the vision of MountCrest to develop the humanistic physician in Ghana. While visiting the country, they heard from patients and doctors in local clinics that there is a need for a more humanistic touch in the doctor-patient interaction. How patients perceive they will be treated by the doctors and nurses can influence their willingness to seek healthcare, especially in times of severe illness.

From left, Dr. Ben Fredrick, director of Global Health Center;  Kwaku Ansa-Asare, founder of MountCrest University, Ghana; Dr. Craig Hillemeier, CEO of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State's senior vice president for health affairs, and dean of the Penn State College of Medicine; Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for education; and  Dr. Samuel Akortey Akor, dean of the MountCrest Medical School in Ghana.

From left, Dr. Ben Fredrick, director of Global Health Center; Kwaku Ansa-Asare, founder of MountCrest University, Ghana; Dr. Craig Hillemeier, CEO of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, and dean of the Penn State College of Medicine; Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for education; and Dr. Samuel Akortey Akor, dean of the MountCrest Medical School in Ghana.

“We feel like this is a strength we can help bring to change a future generation of clinicians in Ghana,” Fredrick said. Penn State College of Medicine was the first medical school in the United States with a Department of Humanities when it opened to students in 1967, and the humanistic approach to medicine remains a fundamental part of its medical school curriculum.

He believes MCU will be able to replicate some of what the College of Medicine has established and use it in its curriculum. This will allow its leadership to develop a top medical school in Western Africa, drawing students from across the region.

“The agreement will assist MCU to develop a six-year, longitudinal medical humanities curriculum,” said Akortey Akor.

MCU will work with Dr. Wolpaw and the leadership of the College of Medicine to determine the needs and resources required to properly guide its curriculum development, including in medical humanities, and develop a community-based approach to foster humanistic care.

The six-year program is based on a European model for medical education, in which students enter the medical program straight out of high school.

Penn State Hershey, led by Cynthia Robinson of Library Services,  also collected used medical books to donate to MCU. This donation will help establish a medical library that will help MCU meet accreditation standards of Africa’s National Accreditation Board.

The joint effort will allow the Global Health Center to offer new teaching and clinical opportunities to Penn State College of Medicine students that have not always been available.

The center supports medical students, faculty and staff pursuit of global health interests. In addition to promoting global health on campus, the center assists in pre-trip preparations for studying abroad including researching opportunities and procuring scholarships.

It offers a number global health initiatives in Ecuador, Peru, Senegal, Zambia, India and now, Ghana.

While there is no shortage of opportunities for global health education, Fredrick said the challenge is finding opportunities that are safe, reliable and well organized, and that provide the sort of clinical and ethical training that Penn State Hershey requires. The agreement with MCU provides a stable opportunity for Penn State Hershey students. Additionally, by developing its own program with a trusted partner, it allows the center to tailor the curriculum to meet students’ needs.

“We don’t want a cookie-cutter approach — what another organization thinks our students ought to learn. We’ve been able to work with MCU and they’ve been very willing to adapt to our interests and needs,” Fredrick said.

He also said that the partnership offers potential collaboration for research and external research funding potential.

“One of the challenges of doing global health research is that while some of the funding is available, you have to have international partnerships existing in order to apply for them credibly,” Fredrick said. This partnership allows the college to pursue those funds.

Fredrick also hopes that the experience provides students with a lesson in cooperation.

“In rural Ghana, they do a really amazing job at the intertwining of clinical medicine and public health, and here in the U.S., those two realms don’t interact very well,” he said. “That is important as the United States moves toward population health management.

“We need to learn these skills, and we need to provide the opportunities for our students to take advantage of them now because they are not well modeled in the United States,” Fredrick said. “We’re looking to places like Ghana to help us learn how to provide better care for our own communities here in the United States.”

For more information on the Global Health Center, visit: http://www.pennstatehershey.org/web/globalhealth

– Jade Kelly Solovey

RELATED: Video conferencing program connects College of Medicine students with rural Ghana

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