Online MPH Student Meckel Attends Seminar in Ghana
Marie Meckel, a graduate student enrolled in the online MPH in PHP program and a physician assistant working in Springfield, MA, attended the 5th Annual International Seminar for Physician Assistants held this past summer in Kintampo, Ghana. The international seminar is co-sponsored annually by the Kintampo College of Health and the University of Utah.
Meckel joined over 400 physician assistants from across Ghana, as well as representatives from the United States, for the four-day conference, which was organized under the theme “Updating for Quality Health Care.” She presented at the seminar on diabetes, hypertension, and medication adherence based on work from her PHP capstone project. The project, an extensive literature review on adherence to hypertensive medications, is a topic that hits close to home for Meckel.
“It’s a huge issue at our clinic,” said Meckel, who has been working as a practitioner in health centers for over ten years. “It’s a subject I’m really passionate about.”
“Ghana is slowly seeing a change in their health care issues,” Meckel added. “As they become more economically advanced, they have adopted lifestyle and dietary changes that are seen in the United States. This puts them at risk for diabetes and hypertension, and in fact, they are slowly seeing an increase in these chronic diseases. I thought that my subject matter could not have been better timed.”
For several years now, Meckel has been interested in learning how physician assistants can become more involved in public health. “I have always thought that PAs are a great solution to health care in developing countries. I did some research and learned that PAs have been practicing in Ghana for over 40 years and that they are heavily involved in public health.”
The College of Health in Kintampo was established in 1969, starting as the School of Hygiene (later becoming the Kintampo Rural Health Training School) before growing into a college. Currently, the College of Health is in the process of being accredited into a full health university with the name University College of Health.
“What I learned was astounding,” Meckel said. “Ghana has a huge drain on doctors and nurses, who frequently leave and work in higher resource countries. The PAs are filling the gap. They can see close to 90 patients a day, compared to maybe 15-20 in the U.S. They generally run the health care centers, and they work closely with community health outreach workers on numerous health care issues.”
Meckel lauded the collaborative nature of the conference, and the exchange of ideas between participants from Ghana and those from the U.S.
“Physician assistants work hand-in-hand with community health outreach workers to help deliver public health messages. We as medical providers in this country could really utilize this model and we could use community health workers more in our healthcare system. This is much more effective than having a provider educate the patient.”
“We could also learn from them how to utilize community or group care. In our health center we are experimenting with group visits, where a group of patients are seen together at one time and are cared for. Patients learn when they listen to other patients in the room. This is a ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ concept in the U.S. but developing countries have been doing this for a long time.”
Meckel hopes to bring the lessons she learned in Ghana back to her clinic in Springfield. She is currently applying for grants in an effort to return to Ghana and work on a program to use community health workers to promote patient education in Ghana, a model she hopes to implement one day in her work in Springfield.
“It was truly a great trip,” Meckel added. “It gave me inspiration. I learned a lot and I think I made a contribution. I hope they benefited from my presentation.”