Students from UI seek a global outlook

By Holly Hines, The Iowa City Press Citizen

Organizers of an upcoming University of Iowa trip to a hospital in southern India say they hope to boost students’ global perspectives and insight into using telemedicine.

A dozen UI graduate and undergraduate students studying public health and business will travel in December to Aravind Eye Hospitals in Madurai, India, for a three-week class, part of the UI’s India Winterim program. Bob Walker, a lecturer at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and his wife, Kristy Walker, an adjunct professor at the College of Public Health, will coteach the class.

Kristy said Aravind is a leader when it comes to using telemedicine — remote contact between providers and patients via technology — while treating and following up with patients living in rural areas around Madurai, which has a population of nearly 1 million people. She said she thinks laws in the U.S. concerning telemedicine are “behind the times,” but that the trip to Aravind will expose students to successful telemedical practices.

Kristy said the non-profit hospital helps low-income residents access healthcare, including cataract surgeries that prevent blindness.

Aravind’s webpage says Govindappa Venkataswamy, an ophthalmologist and former head of Madurai Medical College’s department of ophthalmology, founded Aravind in 1976 with the aim of providing high-quality eye care to all patients seeking treatment.

The UI class while in Madurai will help Aravind seek solutions to decrease its turnover rate among staff and improve its patient education component.

Kristy said Aravind sees great outcomes from its model of healthcare delivery and said the 

trip will encourage students to consider outside-the- box ideas and engage in problem solving.

“We’re excited to see how they’re doing it so efficiently,” she said.

Aaron Ries, a UI graduate student studying health management and policy, said the upcoming trip will be his first time traveling in India and an opportunity to experience a different part of the globe.

He said he looks forward to comparing and contrasting healthcare in Madurai to hospitals in the Midwest. “I’d like to see how medical systems in different partsoftheworldoperate,”he said. Ries, who said he may pursue a career related to e-health, said he hopes to gain “outside perspective” to help him understand and improve healthcare systems in the U.S.

Bob said this year is the tenth anniversary of the India Winterim program, during which students travel throughout India. He said he and the students traveling to Madurai willlearn a lot from the staff at Aravind, which he described as “world-renowned” for its cataract surgeries, and said the students aim to help Aravind increase its sustainability.

He said experience in foreign countries is key for business students and provides them with an opportunity to experience alternate approaches to fields such as healthcare.

“It should really be a life-changing experience for everyone,” Bob said.

Learn more about the India Winterim courses here.

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