From the classroom to Tanzania: Improving health care on a global scale

Celina Dharamshi

When Celina Dharamshi, Master of Public Health Class of 2015, was deciding on where to complete her 12-week practicum placement, she was looking for an experience that would give her the opportunity to apply the public health skillset she acquired in the classroom in a real-world setting.

Dharamshi also wanted to gain international experience, and was eager to challenge herself culturally and psychologically by facing the adversities of living in the developing world. Given her roots in East Africa, she decided to complete her practicum in Tanzania at the Aga Khan Primary Medical Centre (PMC) Mwanza, with Aga Khan Health Services Tanzania (AKHST).

During her practicum, Dharamshi worked on multiple projects. She facilitated two free screening and awareness camps on oral hygiene and reproductive health for two schools; organized 10 tele-consultations between PMC, public health facilities and Aga Khan Hospital – Dar es Salaam; and attended a two-week rotation in the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) unit and identified five key areas of improvement.

She also attended a one-week rotation at the government health centre to work with the RCH team, where she identified five key areas of improvement including increasing access for women during labour and delivery.

Dharamshi explained the practicum certainly covered a broad spectrum of public health issues. Delving into so many areas, rather than focusing on one issue, has inherent challenges, but it quickly became apparent once she arrived in Mwanza why the COO organized the practicum this way.

“Being a highly limited resource setting, this system is in desperate need of enhanced public health infrastructure, but socioeconomic barriers can impede the implementation and community uptake of such efforts,” she explained. “Given the relatively short three-month duration of my practicum experience, the COO felt that both the organization and I would maximally benefit from a broad scope exposure the Tanzania’s most pressing public health issues.”

Dharamshi believes that in the spirit of enhancing the efficacy and sustainability of public health practices, cultural competency training and international experience is critical. The skills and exposure she gained from the practicum are invaluable in many areas of public health, from hospital administration to evidence-based medicine.

Having expanded her research methods training and developing a systems-based approach to health care throughout the MPH program, Dharamshi has enhanced her future capacity to optimize patient outcomes.

“The MPH classroom space is inarguably a simulation, and, while it is comparable, it does not perfectly mimic the often unanticipated obstacles one encounters in a workplace environment,” she said. “It is necessary for students to have had the opportunity to refine and adapt their classroom skills to the workplace, which this 12-week practicum offers.”