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Edward Pape (D.O. '12) poses with local residents in Oworobong, Ghana. In 2011, NYIT sent Papa and fellow students to the West African nation to provide health care education and medical support.
Cultural competency, interdisciplinary learning, and healing underserved populations shape the passions and purpose of NYIT's Center for Global Health
By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)
Deb Lardner, D.O., of NYIT’s Center for Global Health, stares up at the National Geographic 8’ x 13’ map of the world that dominates one side of her office. She counts off countries in her head: Ghana, Belize, India, El Salvador, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Haiti, and many, many more—all the places she has traveled to as an osteopathic physician, and all the places she will bring students in the months to come.
“I feel my workplace getting bigger,” she says with a smile. “We are making more connections worldwide.”
Lardner’s office at NYIT-Old Westbury reflects the doctor’s globetrotting career. Sitting atop a printer rests a wood-carved rooster from Belize. Hanging from a file cabinet is a stethoscope from New Mexico with beadwork crafted by Native American women. Above her computer are three photos—two she took of villagers in Ghana and the third a 2008 class picture from the Bangkok School of Tropical Medicine, where Lardner earned a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene (she earned her osteopathic degree from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine). On her computer screen is a news report from the BBC’s website on a health care crisis in Uttar Pradesh, India.
“I like to help people everywhere,” she says. “And I want to share this experience with students. But they can’t share it without first experiencing it.”
Immersing students in the real world is one of the defining characteristics of an NYIT education, and the Center for Global Health represents one of the university’s most interdisciplinary examples. Combining resources of the College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM), School of Health Professions, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, School of Education, College of Arts and Sciences, and School of Architecture and Design, the center was founded in 2008 by its director, Ed Gotfried, D.O., to educate students about global cultures and health care issues, to engage in research, and, most importantly, to deliver help to underserved communities.
“We want to educate and inspire medical students by providing exposure to and immersion in international experiences,” says Gotfried. “The language of medicine is universal.”
So, too, is NYIT’s commitment to ensuring that students across all academic disciplines earn their degrees after gaining an appreciation of today’s globally connected society.
“The center’s overarching concepts for students are service learning, the development of cultural competencies, establishing a global perspective in health care, and interdisciplinary training,” says Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., NYIT vice president for health sciences and medical affairs. Medical students in interdisciplinary and global programs, she adds, are more likely to follow careers that help communities in need throughout the United States. “This is consistent with NYIT’s vision as a global university. We are training global citizens who can appreciate a wide scope of health care issues.”
Mike Passafaro, D.O., assistant professor in NYCOM’s Department of Medicine, Division of Emergency Medicine, is one of the center’s faculty associates. In March 2010, he traveled to Haiti two months after the devastating earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people and injured 300,000 more. For 10 days, he lived in a tent on the roof of a police station in Port-au-Prince and worked as an ER physician under a makeshift hospital consisting of three 10’ x 20’ tents.
“One tragic scenario that occurred all too frequently was diagnosing patients for serious illnesses and conditions that were easily treatable back home,” says Passafaro, who earned a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene in London. He recalls seeing more than 140 patients in one day.
“When I came back, I realized how fortunate we are to have well-structured medical resources in the United States,” says Passafaro. “But you also notice the waste of resources in the U.S. medical system that Haiti can only dream of.”
Passafaro joined NYIT in the summer of 2011 to support the Center for Global Health. Since then, he has traveled with Lardner and students on NYIT visits to Ghana, Belize, El Salvador, and elsewhere, including a return trip to Haiti in January. “It can be frustrating to students who want to learn about global health but are confined to a classroom,” he says. “We are giving them an experience they can’t get at other medical schools.”