M.P.H. student experiences global health – virtually

Emily Kolacz, a student in DMU’s master of public health (M.P.H.) program, knew from her two international experiences as an undergraduate that such global learning experiences require flexibility. That knowledge was especially valuable when the applied practice experience she had planned in Belize, as part of her M.P.H. degree, was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Being flexible allowed Emily Kolacz to reap benefits from her global health experience.

“You have to be flexible. Nothing ever works out exactly the way you think it’s going to work out,” she says. “I chose to take advantage of the opportunities I did have. It’s learning to go with the flow.”

Emily chose to work with Hillside Health Care International in the Toledo District of southern Belize, a Caribbean country on the eastern coast of Central America. Hillside is a clinic that was founded in 2000 to serve the district’s unmet medical needs. She focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and management, creating PowerPoint and oral presentations for staff on ways motivational interviewing can be used to compel patients to be compliant with their treatment and practice good health behaviors.

“Motivational interviewing involves working with your patients or clients to make them feel comfortable and that they can trust you,” she says. “You let them know they’re in a safe environment and that you are fully listening to them, not judging them. You’re doing what you can to help them, but you aren’t telling them what to do.”

Emily says the technique is useful in her work as a case manager at the veterans’ domiciliary on the Wade Park campus in Cleveland, part of the Ohio Veterans Administration Healthcare System. The domicile serves veterans who are experiencing homelessness or seeking treatment for addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

“I can see a lot of value of motivational interviewing in my job,” she says.

That was one of the benefits of her global health experience amid its challenges: COVID-19 required Hillside to close for a time. Hurricane Nana blew through Belize in early September, forcing its staff to batten down the facility’s hatches. Fortunately, Hillside sustained little damage.

Emily chose DMU’s M.P.H. program because of the opportunity to do an international internship and because students complete the program entirely online, which has allowed her to continue in her job. She also chose the program to get her to where she wants to go in her career.

“I want to have an impact on a macro level, and public health felt like a good opportunity,” she says.

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