AHW-Funded Master of Science in Global Health Equity Program Transforming Healthcare in Wisconsin

March 7, 2024 Posted by AHW Endowment

To achieve health equity for all Wisconsin residents, it's essential that the state’s healthcare workforce has the skills and understanding necessary to effectively engage with diverse populations. While some educational initiatives address health disparities, few focus on health equity—which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” Global health initiatives, on the other hand, prioritize interdisciplinary collaboration to address transnational health challenges.

Integrating these global health perspectives with a focus on health equity within educational programs can provide future physicians and researchers with a global lens. They’re better positioned to navigate Wisconsin's most pressing health disparities, ultimately supporting and enhancing the health and well-being of our local communities.

In February 2019, the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW) invested $488,683 in a four-year project that would establish the Masters of Science (MS) in Global Health Equity program at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). With three graduating classes since its inception, the program has created a learning environment that contributes to better health outcomes for Wisconsin residents and beyond, and that attracts medical professionals to study and serve within local communities. The MS in Global Health Equity program aims to train learners and future leaders to address the state's health inequities and build a more inclusive healthcare landscape.

Creating the MS in Global Health Equity Program

The MS in Global Health Equity program was first conceptualized by the project’s principal investigator, Laura Cassidy, MS, PhD (Institute for Health & Equity), as part of her work through her Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) Program for Women fellowship. In efforts to build out global health education at MCW, Dr. Cassidy performed marketplace analyses and needs assessments and researched the teachings, courses, and curriculums detailed by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.

Kelli Brown, BS, MPH, joined Dr. Cassidy to support the program’s development as Education Program Coordinator III, bringing a strong interest and experiences in global health. Brown and Dr. Cassidy worked to gain graduate school approvals, collaborate with MCW faculty to create new classes for the degree, and leverage courses already available in the PhD program in public and community health.


MS Program in Global Health Equity graduates with Dr. Laura Cassidy and Dr. Ronald Anguzu

The project team—including MCW Institute for Health & Equity Co-Investigators Kirsten M. Beyer, PhD, MPH; Matthew J. Dellinger, PhD; and Julia Dickson-Gomez, PhD—spent months designing a program that could provide current and future medical students opportunities to train with researchers and future PhD students, engage them in group projects and fieldwork, and help them to foster collaborations early in their careers by working with mentors across Wisconsin and in other countries.

The program would offer students unique multidisciplinary training experience, learning from both physicians and public health researchers here in Wisconsin and around the world, with faculty in locations such as Uganda, Switzerland, California, and Georgia.

Launching a Global Health Equity Educational Experience

The program’s first cohort matriculated in the fall of 2020: a challenging time for in-person learning as well as recruitment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when needed, faculty and students were able to pivot to virtual learning without compromising their progress.

As part of the program, partnerships have been established with educational institutions to create a pipeline of students interested in global health who want to pursue a master’s degree. The MS in Global Health Equity program at MCW has worked with Marquette University, Alverno College, and Mount Mary University to create dual degree agreements, giving students opportunities to start the program in their senior year and earn credits toward completion of the MS in Global Health Equity program. The partnerships contribute to the program’s longevity and to its sustainable recruitment of students.

As Brown explained, “They enter our program full-time after they graduate and can expedite the completion of their degree in one year. It’s been a great asset to the program, getting students that are interested right off the bat in undergrad, and helping to engage them and get them involved while providing a great benefit for them as well.”


Project co-investigator Dr. Kristen Beyer speaks with the Alliance of Women Advocating for Change in Uganda, along with Radhika Dua, MS GHE student during her summer internship

For students not entering the program through one of the dual-agreement partnerships, the MS in Global Health Equity program typically takes 18 months to complete, with internship and thesis work completed in the summer.

While some students enter the program immediately after completing their undergraduate degrees, others are practicing physicians, which allows for an environment with interesting exchanges, perspectives, and conversations throughout their coursework. Program flexibility allows students in full-time professional roles, including trauma surgeons, research coordinators, and surgical nurses to pursue their MS while employed.

Students in the program also travel to locations around the globe for on-site fieldwork, providing them with invaluable exposures and experiences as part of their education that they take with them in their careers. Their travel is made possible with funding from an endowment bequeathed by Dr. Rachel Thompson, a global health physician who wanted to support students pursuing their MS in Global Health Equity. Dr. Thompson’s father, Dr. Jeff Thompson, a pediatric critical care physician, and former CEO of Gundersen Health System, supports and encourage students in the program and has been able to travel with Dr. Cassidy to see the work students are doing in their international fieldwork.


Program students pictured with Dr. Laura Cassidy and Dr. Jeff Thompson.

“I’m so excited about the student’s experiences. I see them come into the program and learn and ask questions, and I see their faces when they go and implement their projects in other countries and work with our partners to build their networks and engage with their communities. I see the growth in them, from when they start to when they return from that experience, and they gain so much confidence” said Dr. Cassidy.

Brown echoed, “I enjoy listening to their reflections on their (international) internships because I know how much my personal global health experiences impacted me. It’s great to see them come back with an awesome learning opportunity they’ve gained a lot from and that they can take forward with them in their careers here in Wisconsin.”

Advancing Wisconsin Health with Global Health Equity Education

Alumni of the MS in Global Health Equity program hold roles including:

  • Program manager at Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinic
  • Health equity lead at a local Wisconsin health department
  • Clinical research coordinator/Office of Global Health research coordinator at MCW
  • PhD student in nursing and PhD student in nutrition
  • Research analyst at the MCW Center for Health Disparities Research
  • Program coordinator for a Medication Assisted Treatment initiative

Other program graduates are also applying to medical school and global surgery residency programs.


MS in Global Health Equity students smile at their graduation ceremony

What’s Next for the MS in Global Health Equity Program at MCW

The MS Program in Global Health Equity Program is successfully underway, but the project team sees even more in store for its future. They are working on establishing more joint programs and hope to eventually see an MD and MS program integrated, as well as more connections with local and national universities.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more of the impact it has on people here, our faculty, staff, students, and the communities we serve… I appreciate the investment by AHW, their stewardship, and all of the support they’ve given us. Our program really does improve health equity here in Wisconsin, and we’re learning so much,” said Dr. Cassidy.

MCW’s MS in Global Health Equity program is currently accepting applications for students to begin the program in Fall 2024 with a priority deadline of April 1st and a final application deadline of July 1st. Contact msghe@mcw.edu or visit the program website for more information, www.mcw.edu/msgh.