Push from Med Students Leads to Columbia Global Health Lecture Series


Physicians from Columbia's Department of Pediatrics have a long history of participation in international activities.

As the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Texas, 50 Columbia students had one of the world’s foremost infectious disease experts to themselves in a new global health lecture series.

While Stephen Morse, PhD, professor of epidemiology at CUMC, updated the situation for the students in the inaugural Edgar M. Housepian Global Health Lecture Series, his phone buzzed with calls from reporters. “Eventually, he silenced it to speak with us,” says Nathan Brand, a second-year P&S student who helped create the series. “It shows we’ve done a good job of creating lectures that are interesting and pertinent to current events.”

Giving students an understanding of the current issues in global health is one of the main goals of the lecture series, which evolved from conversations Brand had earlier this year with fellow second-year students David Bridgman-Packer and Rachel Criswell, president of the student’s international health interest group.

“Originally, we had the idea of starting a Global Health Journal club, because we wanted a way to learn the canonical articles in global health and to learn from people who have been in the field,” Brand says.

The students approached Stephen Nicholas, MD, associate dean of admissions at P&S, professor of pediatrics and population & family health, and director of the IFAP Global Health Program and the scholarly projects global health track, who embraced the idea and broadened it into a lecture series. The intention of the series is not only to supplement the P&S curriculum, but also to show students Columbia's great capacity in global health and to help students gain mentors in the field.

“There is a lot that Columbia is doing in global health but it’s very siloed,” Brand says, “so it’s hard for a student to know what’s happening and who is doing it.”

The students—with additional help from Mailman students Madeleine Hopson and Elizabeth Wang, and from Dan Neelon, a graduate of Columbia’s postbac premed program—brought together nearly 20 CUMC faculty members involved in global health to organize and teach the series.

Hopson's and Wang’s experiences as Mailman students eased the planning process. “Except for the more clinical aspects, we get a lot of this information during our first semester of school,” Hopson says. “We knew what resources we had and we could see how to make that happen for the medical students.”

Lectures are given by Columbia experts in global health, including Rachel Moresky, MD, assistant professor of population & family health and of medicine and founding director of CUMC’s International Emergency Medicine Fellowship; Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, University Professor and director of Columbia’s ICAP; and Roy Brown, MD’56, professor emeritus of population & family health, who has worked in more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and served as an adviser to multiple governments.

Each faculty participant has also agreed to work with interested students one-on-one. “They all have incredible willingness and enthusiasm to work with students,” says Brand, who expects that many of the course’s 50 students will take advantage of the mentoring opportunities.

Along with P&S students, participants come from Columbia’s School of Nursing, Mailman School of Public Health, College of Dental Medicine, Institute of Human Nutrition, and School of International and Public Affairs.

180 students from the CUMC and Morningside campuses applied to enroll in the series.

As the series approached its midway point in October, the organizers were already thinking about next year’s version, which they hope will accommodate more students.

“The magnitude of interest by the students in the course has been electrifying,” says Dr. Nicholas. “Faculty on the planning committee, as well as those who have lectured, have been similarly energized. Global health will, and should, be increasingly a priority for those going into medicine.”


The lecture series is presented by IFAP, the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Global Health with a Focus on China, and the Grodman Dual Degree Program.

The series is named for Edgar M. Housepian, professor emeritus of clinical neurological surgery at P&S and a 1953 graduate of the medical school who spent his career at Columbia University Medical Center while championing interdisciplinary global health. He served as special adviser for international affiliations to the P&S dean from 1996 until 2010. He chairs the medical committee of Fund for Armenian Relief, which provides emergency relief and implements long-term programs for the economic growth and social development of Armenia. He helped design a postgraduate medical fellowship program that brought nearly 90 Armenian doctors to the United States for additional training.

The IFAP Global Health Program was founded by Dr. Nicholas in 1999. It supports several programs, including summer internships for medical center students; scholarly projects for medical students; a one-year medical student global health research scholars program; and medical student and resident clinical elective rotations at international sites. The program has sponsored projects in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia on topics that range from post-earthquake health needs assessments in Haiti to an assessment of depression among adolescents with sickle cell disease in Uganda.