January 22, 2014
|Marie Meckel (front, seated at left) serving as clinical mentor in support of South African clinical associates|
Having worked as a Physician Assistant for the last 10 years in the United States, Marie Meckel, MPH '12, was selected to serve as a Clinical Mentor in South Africa supporting Clinical Associates, the country’s new profession equivalent to Physician Assistants. Coordinated by the American International Health Alliance's Volunteer Healthcare Corps, Marie’s nine-month placement will focus on improving the clinical training of Clinical Associates students at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. These mid-level healthcare professionals are equipped with knowledge and skills to meet the country’s healthcare workforce challenges, particularly in rural areas.
This is not Marie’s first time in Africa nor her first time working with mid-level health professionals on the continent. Before becoming a PA, she spent a year traveling through Africa starting in Egypt and ending in Namibia via the Congo River. More significantly, since becoming a PA and getting her MPH, Marie has traveled to Ghana three summers in a row starting in 2010 to attend, present, and develop workshops at a conference that brings together the country’s mid-level health professionals. She gave lectures and presentations on chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are frequently overlooked but increasingly burdening Africa’s population. Marie was inclined to pursue her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, so she could better integrate public health into her practice - a need she sees in the entire US healthcare system. Particularly after her experiences in Africa, she realized the extent to which medical practice is insular in the US and needs to incorporate a more diverse and holistic knowledge about communities. She says learning from other healthcare systems is important.
Behind all Marie’s work and interests lie the theme of relationships - between patient and health provider, between peers, and especially across cultures. Particularly in African countries, building these relationships is crucial. Marie understands that having a sustainable impact on the healthcare sector in South Africa can only come about through building trust and developing long-term, peer-to-peer relationships with her counterparts.
We have no doubt that Marie’s enthusiasm and commitment in her placement will yield many accomplishments for the Clinical Associates profession. In the same regard, we are certain that Marie’s experiences in Mthatha will have a lasting impact on her life and profession back in the US.
“The exchange of information and knowledge between the American and African health systems is paramount to building a stronger future for global public health,” Marie says. “I believe that developing these relationships slowly over time and promoting partnerships creates an environment that is ripe for change. We still have so much to learn from each other.”
NOTE: Marie’s placement in Mthatha is made possible with funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and CDC/South Africa, coordinated by the American International Health Alliance. This story originally appeared on the AIHA Facebook page.