by Kristin Centers
After decades of civil unrest and the Ebola outbreak, Liberia’s fragile health system is being strengthened through U.S.-Liberian partnerships focused on medical education and capacity building at the country’s only medical school, the AM Dogliotti (AMD) School of Medicine in the College of Health Sciences. at the University of Liberia (ULCHS).
A team of Liberian faculty led by Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, vice president of health services at ULCHS, and faculty from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Yale University worked for three years on the review and the redesign of the medical school curriculum, which will be launched in March. 2022. Significant changes include reducing the length of the program from nine to seven years and improving the quality of training with an integrated competency-based curriculum to improve retention and ensure the success of future physicians Liberians.
The adoption of the new program coincided with two significant events last fall. Eighty-six preclinical students participated in an inaugural science and math skills camp to improve their success in medical school through new scientific knowledge, data-driven critical thinking, and grounded learning on the investigation. Additionally, the first two Liberian-trained ophthalmologists graduated from the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS).
Marie Martin, PhD, MEdAssistant Professor of Health Policy and Associate Director of Education and Training at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH), leads Vanderbilt’s new capacity building and medical education initiatives in Liberia through the funded program by USAID BRIDGE-U: Research Application for a Healthy Liberia and PEER Liberia programs.
Troy Moon, MD, MPH, Bonnie Miller, MD, and Neil Osheroff, PhD, of Vanderbilt, have also been heavily engaged in capacity building efforts in Liberia through the USAID PEER Liberia program. The team works closely with Yale and ULCHS on these initiatives.
“The launch of the new integrated, competency-based medical program at the University of Liberia represents the culmination of three years of sustained commitment to a stronger health system. This, coupled with the establishment of a science camp in high schools and improved residency training, means that the country’s entire pipeline for medical education has been strengthened. It’s a time to celebrate, especially during a pandemic where we are painfully aware of the need for high-quality healthcare. It was an honor for Vanderbilt to partner with such visionary and strategic leaders at the University of Liberia, and we are grateful for the support of the U.S. government for this important work,” said Martin.
While about 75 students enter AMD Medical School, about 25 students graduate from medical school. AMD has struggled with attrition, in part due to unprepared incoming students. To fill the gaps in basic science at the high school level, ULCHS launched and successfully completed an intensive four-week science and math camp called Camper xSEL. This program equips incoming students with the skills and knowledge to support their success in their medical school career. The month-long program was co-developed with ULCHS, Yale and VUMC faculty and funding from various U.S. government and multilateral agencies.
In addition to classroom sessions, science labs were equipped with microscopes and other equipment made possible through a gift from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and facilitated by VIGH and USAID. On the first day of the labs, the instructors had to delay the lesson to take individual photos with the microscopes. For many students, it was the first time they had seen one in person.
U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy visited the University of Liberia campus to celebrate the closing of the first xSEL Camp and the launch of the medical school’s new curriculum. The grand celebration included University of Liberia leaders, US government officials, university partners, faculty and students.
The same day, the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons Certified the first two Liberian-trained ophthalmologists in Liberia. They were among the 30 new specialists at the 5th convocation and the annual general scientific meeting of the college. Prior to the addition of the new ophthalmologists, the country had no more than two board-certified ophthalmologists for a country of 4.6 million people. With the support of LV Prasad in India and the USAID PEER Liberia program, as well as the commitment of Amy Chomsky, MD, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences of VUMC, and Sapna Gangaputra, MD, MPH, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Vanderbilt, the number of ophthalmologists in the country has doubled.
These successes are the result of programs and initiatives supported and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank to strengthen the Liberia’s health care delivery system through an American-Liberian partnership. .