This spring marked the 10th anniversary of the Global Health Case Competition at Vanderbilt, cementing the event as both campus tradition and evidence of a sustained commitment to collaborative problem-solving in global health at the university. Since 2011, over 1000 student participants and volunteers have participated in the competition, coordinated by Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health’s Student Advisory Council.
Each year, the Global Health Case Competition engages interdisciplinary student teams in addressing a pressing global health challenge. Following the official case ‘reveal’ event, teams have 10 days to develop a comprehensive solution which is presented to expert judges in a public forum. The annual student-led event fosters critical analysis of global health issues and requires student teams to incorporate a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches through innovative and sustainable solutions. As one 2018 participant reflected on the experience, the competition is “a good reminder that having a good idea is only half of the work - communicating the idea effectively is the other half.”
The Vanderbilt Global Health Case Competition was established in 2010 following an experience at the Emory University Global Health Case Competition. Responding to an invitation from Emory to participate as part of the four regional schools in their event, Vanderbilt sent two medical students, a doctoral student from Peabody and a doctoral student from the Graduate School to compete on behalf of the university. VIGH Associate Director Dr. Marie Martin and Associate Professor Emeritus Carol Etherington accompanied the team. That experience spurred the creation of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health Student Advisory Council and the launch of the first VIGH Global Health Case Competition in 2010. Since its inception, case topics have addressed diverse public health challenges around the globe, ranging from acute malnutrition in Ethiopia (2011) and drug-resistant tuberculosis in the Russian prison system (2012) to road traffic injuries in Vietnam (2014), post-Ebola health systems strengthening in Liberia (2016), and surgical safety in Haiti (2018).
Interdisciplinary teams are expected to immerse themselves in the case context as they develop a response which addresses broader social factors that influence health, including political and economic stability, culture, education, religion, and language, among other issues. Winning teams travel yearly to Atlanta to participate in the International Emory Global Health Case Competition at Emory University.
The 2020 Global Health Case Competition, held February 13-22, was one of its most competitive to date. Sixteen interdisciplinary student teams participated, representing undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College. This year’s case, "Maternal Health Challenges in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps in Nigeria", challenged participants to design an improved system for maternal-child healthcare delivery in the context of extreme resource constraints.
Junior Kevin Ifiora, a participant on the winning team in 2019 and a native of Nigeria, helped develop this year’s case concept. “Witnessing the internal displacement that resulted from the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria made me curious about this problem due to the effects it had on people and communities. I hoped the competition will get participants curious about internal displacement, a global challenge that will likely become more pressing in the face of climate change, but also push them to realize that they have what it takes to tackle it.” This year’s case also aligned with the Vanderbilt Trans-institutional Programs Initiative’s workshop on "Terrorism, Healthcare, and Displacement in the West African Sahel.” Dr. Mairo Mandara, obstetrician/gynecologist and former country representative to Nigeria for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, served as keynote speaker for both events, and reminded students that the implications of these issues can be felt far beyond Nigeria, and directly impact communities like Nashville through immigration and shifts in the global economy.
For their project “Operation K.I.D.”, first place was awarded to Ava Minarovic (Biomedical Engineering ‘23), Hilly Yehoshua (Engineering ‘23), Ivy Han (Child Development ‘23), Rahul Devathu (Medicine Health and Society/Computer Science ‘23), and Rithik Reddy (Computer Science ‘23) – the competition’s first all-freshman team to take the prize. All participating students, however, gained new perspective on the practice of global health. “This was a great experience,” described one participant. “I was challenged and encouraged to be more aware of global issues as a health care provider.”
The 10th Annual Case Competition also marked another first – the first time the winning team would compete at the International competition through a virtual presentation platform from Nashville. As the coronavirus forces universities to reconsider travel and traditional meeting formats, Vanderbilt’s 2020 Case Competition winners are preparing to address a new global health case challenge - firsthand.
The 2020 Global Health Case Competition was co-chaired by students Emilio Loret de Mola (Senior, College of Arts and Sciences) and Emmanuel Sackey (2nd year, Master of Public Health). Additional support was provided by the Office of the Provost, Vanderbilt’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, the Master of Public Health Program at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the Office of Inclusive Excellence, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Anesthesiology.
It was a refreshing perspective on how global health could be more than just diseases.
It was very challenging and definitely worth the time it took to participate. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and loved having the opportunity to think creatively and challenge myself.
Academically, I was able to learn plenty from all the talks and discussion sessions. Professionally I had the opportunity to network and make some awesome future connections as well as engage with previous professors.
I came in thinking I was going to be a neuroscience major; however, participating in the global health case competition made me realize how much I enjoyed public policy and global health and has made me consider majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Public Policy.
I think you get out of this case-competition what you put into it. If you do not work hard on the case and do thorough research, you will not learn very much. If you do thorough research, work hard on the case, and learn from your teammates, you can learn a lot in one week. The value of the case competition is entirely dependent on your own personal involvement and investment.
Having a clear picture of what you are proposing, and clear ways to measure and evaluate those things, is super important. It doesn’t’ matter how flashy or catchy your ideas are, if they are not clearly communicated it won’t matter.