Students will solve real world health issues during 2018 UA Health Competition

Interdisciplinary teams of graduate and undergraduate University of Arizona students will compete in the inaugural 2018 Global Health Competition and try to create the best, most practical solution to a real-world global health issue. 

Thirty-five students broken up into seven teams will compete over the course of a week, leading to a final presentation to five judges with professional experience. 

From March 18 to March 24, the student teams must read through a global health case, discuss and develop a solution, and prepare a professional presentation proposing their solution. 

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The case students must solve revolves around reducing drug dependency and reducing the stigma associated with the term “drug addict,” with an emphasis on the opiate crisis in North America. 

Jeff Watson, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, is the case chair and had a large role in creating the competition.

“There are a lot of benefits that can be gained from this event,” Watson said. “This is a professional development event. Students have an opportunity to gain valuable skills for the future, including public speaking, working in teams, and learning how to do research that may be outside of their discipline.”

Diverse and interdisciplinary teams were an emphasis of the competition, and the case even states that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary for completion of the project.

“To develop a nice, holistic solution to the problem presented, a team should be formed of people with all kinds of different backgrounds represented,” Watson said. “This will give them better ability to address the issue more realistically.”

Marissa Lopez-Pier, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, also helped organize the competition and addressed the importance of students from outside of biomedical engineering participating.

“If we just ran this competition within [the biomedical engineering department,] students would be limited in the sense that they may have never been in an operating room, and never have been in the Peace Corps like some Med students,” Lopez-Pier said. “As far as the financial aspect goes, that’s more of the business side. So a more diverse team would create a more well-rounded solution.”

Watson echoed Lopez-Pier's sentiment. “This is not as simple as coming up with an idea and proposing it,” he said. "The case report is very extensive and it requires multiple people with multiple backgrounds to come up with a creative solution to the problem.”

The case itself is in-depth and over 10 pages long. 

A focus was also placed on creating teams with a mix of undergraduate and graduate students.

“We want to try to increase the undergraduates’ interest in research that is out there in terms of un-met needs and unmet innovations,” Lopez-Pier said. “We also want [undergrads] to get an opportunity to meet and interact with faculty in our department.” 

Watson hopes that this competition will have an impact on more than just the students. 

“This is introducing the community to global health, which some people may not know about,” Watson said.

According to Watson, global health is a complex field, that includes an understanding of public health, culture and government, technology, medicine and how to treat different diseases and more.

“We’re getting a lot of people together in a room to present creative solutions to a real issue,” Watson said. “These ideas could eventually create grant proposals and real solutions.”

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Watson was encouraged to develop the competition after a visit to Emory University in Atlanta.

“This competition is pretty much student driven at Emory, so we wanted to create a competition here as a student driven initiative,” Watson said. Watson added that faculty members were supportive in bringing a global health competition to the UA. 

Students wanting to participate had the option to sign up as a group, or sign up individually and be placed into a group. Most students signed up individually, and Watson said that he is unsure if they will require students to sign up as a group for the next competition, or allow individual entrants.

However, Watson was sure that he wanted the competition to continue and become an annual event.  


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