UGHE Faculty Dr. Arlene Nishimwe on Strengthening Equitable Health Systems Through Education

Dr. Arlene Nishimwe sharing the role of education for Equitable Health Systems

Dr. Arlene Nishimwe joined the UGHE faculty as a Junior Faculty member after completing her MGHD degree there. Her commitment as a Junior Faculty to UGHE’s mission of developing global health leaders is divided into three categories: teaching, research, and community engagement. Dr.  Nishimwe works with the senior faculty to develop courses, educate students, and organize various modules to train students to be informed doctors who can treat patients equitably. She is also a mentor to six students since 2019; she helps to answer their questions and give additional explanations about their courses as needed, inspires them to be the greatest versions of themselves as global health leaders, and advises them. She assists the UGHE Global Health Department and the Center for Gender Equity in ongoing research projects aimed at bringing evidence-based solutions to global health problems. In terms of community engagement, she collaborates with the Community Based Education department to engage with the communities surrounding the campus in order to help students learn from the communities and to deliver science courses to high school students in the community, teaching them practical lab experiments.

Dr. Nishimwe’s enthusiasm for global health equity began within a year of beginning her career as a doctor at Kibagabaga hospital, where she saw various socioeconomic determinants of health that were unaddressed and impacting her patients. They were unable to comply with the prescription owing to a lack of money to purchase the recommended medicines or other social determinants that could not be addressed by the health professionals. She believed that if she went beyond the clinical side of medicine and learned about global health and inequalities linked to health care delivery, she would be able to be a better doctor. “You could prescribe medications, but if the patient couldn’t afford it, it would jeopardize your therapy. I realized that just telling the patient what to do was not enough to heal them; you must also understand all the other non-medical reasons related to their disease that explain why they are not responding to your prescription,” she adds. Following recognizing a desire to study more about global health, she enrolled at UGHE to pursue her Master of Science in Global Health Delivery, and after graduation, she joined the UGHE faculty as a Junior Faculty member.

Dr. Nishimwe feels that her participation at UGHE has affected her both individually and professionally. Professionally, UGHE has opened her eyes to the global health world, and made her realize that there is more to be done than clinical medicine and that the inequities in the health sector were creating barriers for people to access high-quality healthcare and provide sustainable solutions to the health sector’s challenges. “Being in the hospital, I thought that was all, but there was more!” she exclaims. She claims that it is not only knowing how to treat patients, but also knowing how as a doctor you can improve people’s lives by getting to know them, learning about their finances, their neighborhoods, and the entire environment around them, such as the one health approach of understanding the health impacts of caring for our environment and the animals around us. “UGHE assisted me in learning about the whole healthcare system, as well as how policies and leadership affect health systems.” Dr. Nishimwe thinks that UGHE has also helped her realize and see that health professionals are not the only actors in the health sector, but that educators who train compassionate and equitable physicians are important players, which motivated her to become a lecturer at UGHE “I started liking teaching even though all I wanted to be as a medical student was to become a doctor who treated patients on a daily basis, but seeing how inspired I was by the UGHE faculty who taught us in my MGHD class  I understood that teaching was not just going in front of people to transmit knowledge, but you could make an impact on the health of people by being a good teacher” Dr. Nishimwe has also been impacted by UGHE to embrace diversity and learn from individuals from all backgrounds; she believes that diversity is required to create equitable healthcare.

Dr. Arlene Nishimwe when she was working at Kibagabaga District Hospital. Image captured in 2016

“Equity” is one of UGHE’s values that stuck out to Dr. Nishimwe when she first started at the university since it is linked to her dream, “I’ve always imagined a society where everyone is not only given equal opportunities but an equitable one instead; where everyone is given what  they actually need to thrive in life.” She thinks that since individuals have various needs, everyone should be provided what they need based on where they begin in order to achieve the same objective. Incorporating equity into her courses begins with the foundation that UGHE has already established by accepting students from all backgrounds, “I find admissions to be equitable, especially in terms of gender, because in the MBBS program here at UGHE, we have 70% females and 30% males, which is different from the 10% females in my medical class when I was pursuing my medical studies, which has contributed to more male doctors than female doctors.” Another UGHE’s value that has influenced her teaching approach is inclusivity, which entails accepting and promoting contributions and involvement from a broad group of individuals in order to achieve an equitable global health system. “There are so many opportunities with bringing diverse people together to tackle global health challenges because it does not prioritize only one specific group or nation but contributes to a global impact,” says Dr. Nishimwe, emphasizing the importance of diversity in tackling global health challenges. She integrates this concept of inclusion into her lessons by encouraging active involvement from all of her students and supporting them individually based on their needs.

Dr. Nishimwe is impressed by how medical courses are taught to UGHE students in a student-centered interactive way. She claims that UGHE students are not only trained to be clinical doctors, but also to be global health leaders who will challenge the status quo, treat patients equitably, provide solutions to global health issues, and advocate for the vulnerable while earning both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She says, “they are being armed with information that goes beyond curing illnesses, which is shaping them into doctors who comprehend the environment in which they live, who understand patients, and who focus therapy not on their own knowledge or medicines, but on the patients themselves; something I recommend to all medical schools if we want to see a positive change in the global health sector.” Furthermore, UGHE students have access to their instructors anytime they need them for further explanations or to seek extra academic assistance, which, due to a greater student: lecturer ratio, is difficult to have in medical schools around the region. . She thinks that this provides students with the necessary information while also preparing them to become physicians who are modest, approachable, and helpful to their patients, as their faculty demonstrate via their interactions with them.

The University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) has the bold mission “to radically change the way health care is delivered around the world by training generations of global health professionals who strive to deliver more equitable, quality health services for all.” To achieve this mission, the role of Faculty members like Dr. Arlene Nishimwe is very crucial.