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Physicians for Peace honors ODU with President’s Award

Dominican Republic. Nicaragua. Guatemala. India.

These are just a few of the countries where Old Dominion University healthcare professionals - many from its College of Health Sciences - have built a solid partnership with the international non-profit organization Physicians for Peace. In doing so, the university has been instrumental in assisting the humanitarian organization in its quest to "teach one, heal many."

On Saturday, Oct. 25, ODU was recognized for its efforts, receiving the coveted President's Award at the organization's annual gala, held at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel.

For 25 years, Physicians for Peace has been a leader in global health education. It joined forces with healthcare providers in the world's most impoverished regions, giving them ongoing medical training to help attend to their struggling communities.

ODU has been one of the organization's partners for more than a decade. Through its College of Health Sciences, the university has established global health programs in nursing, physical therapy, dental hygiene and other disciplines. The college created the ODU Center for Global Health in 2011 with a long-range, big-picture vision for education, alumni involvement, research and increased faculty and student engagement.

In late 2013, Muge Akpinar-Elci took the reins as the center's director and has since developed a global health certification program. One goal she has continually addressed is changing the misconception of the term "global."

"Many see 'global health' and think, 'Why is this important to me? That it's all about something abroad,'" said Akpinar-Elci, who accepted the award on behalf of the university with College of Health Sciences Dean Shelley Mishoe. "But diseases and healthcare issues know no borders. Global health is about home and abroad. It's not about location, it's about magnitude."

Brigadier Gen. Ron Sconyers, president and CEO of Physicians for Peace, is also chairman of the ODU Center for Global Health's advisory board.

"With Sconyers' help, we are working to further expand our collaborations," Akpinar-Elci said.

Dean Mishoe recalls discussions that became the kernel of creation for the Center of Global Health.

"From the moment I arrived at the college, Ron Sconyers reached out to me. We talked every week about what Physicians for Peace and the college had already done," she said. "We talked about my vision. And we worked on solidifying an ongoing relationship."

Gail Grisetti from the School of Physical Therapy and professor Gayle McCombs from the School of Dental Hygiene were the front-runners on building an existing relationship with Physicians for Peace, Dean Mishoe said.

Grisetti became a volunteer with the organization 10 years ago. She says she found the involvement incredibly satisfying, because "I felt the mission and vision of the organization aligned so clearly with my own mission and vision as well as that of the College of Health Sciences.

"My commitment to the organization has only grown over time as I have been able to develop programs and projects for and with partners in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Philippines," she said. "My life has been touched in so many ways by my work with Physicians for Peace, and I hope it will continue to be so in the future."

The School of Dental Hygiene faculty and graduate students teamed with Physicians for Peace to make numerous trips to Leon, Nicaragua, since 2010. McCombs has been the team leader of the ODU-Nicaragua collaboration.

"In 2010, I was invited to be part of a PFP mission to provide oral care in Leon, which also served as a feasibility investigation into possibly creating the first dental hygiene program there," she said. "In 2011, the dean of the dental school at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) spent a week at our school to gain a better understanding of dental hygiene programs in the U.S. The UNAN dental hygiene program enrolled its first class this year, and we are eagerly awaiting our next visit to review their progress and provide our support."

The Resource Mothers program is another example of an ODU/Physicians for Peace collaboration. Through the program, nursing and physical therapy students have worked with the organization to provide perinatal health education in the Dominican Republic. The program was an outgrowth of Norfolk-based Resource Mothers, a state-funded program targeting low-income pregnant teens that was started in 1997. Dr. Edward Karotkin, a leader in Physicians for Peace who worked with the program, identified the need in the Dominican Republic and launched a sister program there in 2005.

Janice Hawkins, a chief academic adviser for the School of Nursing, fully embraces Physicians for Peace's "teach one, heal many" philosophy.

"It means that the impact of such training programs is exponential," she said. "PFP equips local health providers to contribute to better outcomes for their own patient populations. The sustainable nature of the model and the potential to impact such large numbers makes it extremely fulfilling."

Hawkins says accompanying students on medical missions with Physicians for Peace holds an even deeper meaning than the mission itself.

"I believe that I'm introducing many of them to a lifetime commitment to service," she said.

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