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Interdisciplinary USU student team takes second place in Emory Global Health Case Competition

seven girls stand with a certificate
By Zachary Willis

A team of students traveled to the Emory Global Health Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, recently to represent Uniformed Services University at the Emory Global Health Case Competition, and took second place out of 30 participating teams.

The USU team competed against students from around the world, including teams from Emory, Yale, Brown, and Vanderbilt Universities, among others in the U.S., and the University of Toronto in Canada, and the University of Melbourne in Australia, to develop multidisciplinary approaches to scenarios related to 21st century global health problems.

Each team consisted of four to six graduate and undergraduate students representing at least three schools within their university. USU’s team, represented by Sarah Walsh, an MD/PhD student in USU’s Molecular and Cellular Biology program, Army Capt. Sybil Mallonee, a clinical psychology doctoral student, June Early, who is pursuing her PhD in public health, Army 2nd Lts. Elizabeth Rich and Sarah Fitzpatrick, both first-year medical students, and Air Force 2nd Lt. Hailey Reneau, a first-year medical student, worked together to develop innovative solutions and successfully demonstrated the high level of inter-professional collaboration present at Uniformed Services University.

six women sit at a table working

The 30 teams were given their case topic about seven days prior to the competition. Each team had to select one of five countries to represent through their case and develop a multidisciplinary approach to recommendations to address the problem, “A Storm’s A-Comin’! Implementing Innovative Hurricane Disaster Preparedness Strategies in a Changing Global Climate.” Their approaches could include issues such as health care policy, public health implementation and planning, business partnership/ investment, medical research, international development, logistics and management, faith/cultural understanding, international law, and other disciplines.

“We were initially given the choice to choose between five different countries – Japan, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, and the Philippines,” said Walsh. “We selected Japan based on its relationship with the U.S. military.”

The students were allowed to seek feedback from experts in the field on their ideas. Experts from Emory University, the CDC, and other leading organizations served as team case advisors and competition judges.

USU faculty member Dr. Weyinshet Gossa, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, advised the USU team, and they also received guidance and support from U.S. Public Health Service Capts. Paul Reed and Jeffrey Goodie, Air Force Lt. Col. Bradley Boetig, and Ms. Kandra Strauss-Riggs, all faculty members at USU.

three girls present to an audience

During the first round of the competition, USU’s team competed against other university teams that selected Japan as their country of representation. They each presented their best proposals to the judges, who served as governmental representatives of Japan. Other teams did the same with their respective countries.

USU’s Japan scenario described a hospital with failing electricity and soon-to-be failing generators. The hospital administration has cause for concern due to the low amount of medicine and high level of patients, and on top of that, the polluted water and structural integrity of the building are forcing the administration to consider evacuating. The students were given a $50 million budget to implement solutions to this problem and prepare for disaster-related problems to come.

“Our team solution was centered around keeping the hospitals open and functioning normally,” says Walsh. “Japan has an aging population and its primary concern is the management of chronic conditions.”

Walsh goes on to explain that the USU team’s proposal included use of typhoon-resilient alternative energy sources like solar panels and modified turbines strong enough to withstand typhoon-force winds to harness energy.

“This energy would then be stored in lithium ion battery storage units, similar to the solution Tesla implemented at a hospital in Puerto Rico,” explains Walsh. “By keeping the hospitals open and functioning at full power, we could better address the disaster health needs of the community.”

Out of the six teams working specifically to create solutions for Japan, Walsh says, “we were chosen as the best and then moved on to the final round as the representatives from Japan. Feedback from our first-round judge included that our solution was very practical and took into account the existing systems and culture in Japan.”

four girls present to an audience

The five finalist teams, who represented Japan, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Mexico, and the Philippines, presented their cases to a different group of judges who represented the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the USAID’s Center for Innovation and Impact.

Teams had 15 minutes to present their case solutions and the 10 minutes of Q&A with the judges in both the first-round and final-round of the competition.

The USU student teams earned second place overall in the competition, behind the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“The USU global health team worked very hard under a very tight timeline,” says Dr. Gossa, the faculty adviser for the team. “They were receptive to feedback, and … were knowledgeable, confident, and compelling during their case presentation. I applaud their hard work, team spirit and determination to win the competition. USU is well-poised to participate in future case competitions thanks to the team’s successful win!”