Celebrating World Health Day: Honoring a Generation of Health Professionals

By Eilif Serck-Hanssen,
April 7, 2020

Over the past weeks many of us have thought a lot about what it means to be a first responder, on the front-line in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Our nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are the heroes we need right now, and their work has never been more important.

Equally, I do not lose sight of the fact that every one of these medical heroes were educated by passionate and committed professors, who themselves, entered this profession with the intention to help when and where it is needed most.

So, on this, World Health Day, we celebrate all health professionals, as well as those who have given them the technical training, the moral compass, the depth of experience, and an enduring sense of purpose and hope.

Health Sciences has always been one of the largest and most celebrated areas of study across the Laureate network. We have some of the best health science programs in each country, from nursing to dentistry, from medicine to kinesiology. However, what makes me most proud is not the diverse range of the programs we offer, but the clinics we have established in almost every country where we have campuses. Today we operate more than 50 clinics. These free and low-cost facilities provide two equally important things – access to professional medical care in communities that need this most, and a rigorous, complex, authentic learning environment for our students.

These clinics have provided services for literally hundreds of thousands of community members, and in many cases, have been on the front-line of past public health emergencies. An excellent example of this is the FG Community Clinic at UNIFG in Recife, Brazil, where they were among the first responders during the Zika outbreak. You can learn more about their inspiring work here, led by Professors Fatima Casa Nova and Alessandra Bahia.

While leading a multinational, public company there are endless metrics that we seek and analyze. And this is appropriate. However, nothing shows success like a graduate from one of our universities creating positive impact in their community.

Late last year, I had the opportunity to meet Barbara Marinho, a medical student at UnP in Natal, Brazil. Barbara had been selected as a Laureate Student Ambassador, and represented us, along with five other students, at the B Corp Champions Retreat in California in September. Barbara returned to the United States in December and spent two months completing a Fellowship in the Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief unit at the World Health Organization. Here, Barbara was among the first to hear about COVID-19 as it attracted attention, and concern, in Wuhan, China.

Another former Laureate Student Ambassador, and a recent graduate from our terrific medical school at UNITEC Honduras, Cristian Alejandro Alvarez, is now working at Hospital General San

Francisco in Juticalpa, Honduras, caring for COVID-19 patients. Cristian is a brilliant young doctor who is passionate about improving public health in Honduras and across Central America.

Graduates of our nursing school at UNAB in Chile are also working on the front-line supporting patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Jelitsa Rojas Jacob is currently working 24-hour shifts in adult emergency care at Carlos Van Buren Hospital in Valparaíso, Chile, where she arrived a year after graduating. The pandemic led the hospital to create a dedicated Acute Respiratory Unit (URA) in which Jelitsa is part of the highly specialized team that cares for patients with severe respiratory problems. Juan José Pacheco graduated from UNAB in 2019 and currently works at the Hospital Universitari Sagrat Cor in Barcelona, where he continues to play an important role caring for patients at the height of the pandemic in Spain.

Today, on World Health Day, we honor these outstanding students and graduates, and the many thousands of others who are working in this essential field. We also honor the professors and other academic leaders who have inspired and enabled a generation of health professionals to change and, wherever possible, save lives.

Beyond the impact of individual students and graduates, our network has been called upon in many different ways during this period. A growing number of our facilities are being used to treat patients, COVID-19 tests are being conducted at UNAB, researchers at UPC have received a grant to quickly identify treatment options, and more than 100 articles have been published across national and international media featuring our faculty as experts in their field

This pandemic is testing us, and changing us, in ways we don’t yet fully understand. When so much is uncertain, there is some comfort in knowing that the transformative power of education will endure, and the need for access to quality higher education will only continue to rise.