AS A GIRL GROWING UP IN INDIA, Shaloo Puri, MD, had few career choices. After choosing medicine — and a career in global health at institutions such as Harvard and World Health Organization — she yearned to inspire others as an educator.
In 2018, she arrived in Memphis to develop and direct a unique master’s program in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. As Puri and her colleagues train health care professionals from around the world in global child health, they’ll spread the impact of St. Jude far beyond its Tennessee roots.
The Master of Science program in Global Child Health incorporates the world-renowned faculty of the Graduate School with the expertise of the St. Jude Global Pediatric Medicine department.
The program’s online courses in research methods, population sciences, global health and health systems are tailored to child health. Students also gain management, leadership and communication skills. The inaugural class of 10 students from 10 countries consists of seasoned clinicians and health administrators.
Students in the program travel periodically to St. Jude for on-campus workshops while remaining in their professional roles. As they return home and complete online coursework, they can immediately apply what they’ve learned to reach the most vulnerable in their countries.
“We all have the same goal, which is to improve the care of children with cancer in our countries,” says student Liliana Vasquez, MD, who hails from the Ministry of Health in Peru. “This program is going to change the future of many children with cancer in developing countries, by training leaders who will make changes in the system.”
A Singular Focus
The new master’s program comes several years after the launch of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where three cohorts of students are currently pursuing doctorates. The program aligns with the goals of St. Jude Global, which brings the hospital’s clinical practices and treatments to the world.
“One of the big ways of doing that is to teach the teachers,” explains Stephen White, DPhil, the school’s president and dean. “There are lots of master’s programs out there and some similar ones in prominent places, but we have a niche because ours is focused in pediatrics.”
The students will learn to assimilate scientific evidence and apply analytical tools and integrative thinking to develop and implement evidence-based programs and policies. Those skills, complemented by leadership and management training, will help them address needs in their own clinics and hospitals. As they educate their colleagues and implement new processes, the students can help improve children’s care.
The students will also write master’s theses that propose projects to solve important child health issues. Select projects will be considered for funding by St. Jude .
“We’re creating agents of change by providing health care professionals around the world with skills and knowledge to improve treatment, care and survival rates of children with cancer and other illnesses,” Puri says. “That perfectly aligns with the values and mission of St. Jude .”
Making an Impact
Adriana Porras, MD, works in the only children’s hospital in Costa Rica. She often treats immigrant children with cancer and other dire illnesses who live in an overflowing hospital shelter.
When Porras attended student orientation, she quickly became inspired.
“Much of the money at St. Jude comes from donations, and that made me think it’s something that could be done in my country,” she says. “We’re 5 million people, and if each of us gave something it would add up to a lot of money to buy equipment, hire more people and increase the capacity of our shelter.”
The students’ fire-in-the-belly quality resonated with White and Puri, who interviewed all candidates and selected those representing a diverse set of cultures and viewpoints.
“We’re going to help them develop a systems approach to child health and determine how they can impact the health system that serves an individual child,” Puri says. “In a few years, we’ll be able to see how this will impact the status of childhood cancers around the world.”
From Promise, Autumn 2019