Emory Global Health Connections - Winter 2021/2022


  • Improving the Culture at a Cambodian Hospital
  • Hacking the Hackathons
  • Story Time: "COVID-19 Helpers"
  • Westerberg Winner Announced
  • Suchdev Heads to Guatemala

Improving the Culture at a Cambodian Hospital

The Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge Regime’s Cambodian genocide in the 1970s but was able to reopen its doors in the early 1980s with the few healthcare providers who had survived. Since then, Calmette has undergone steady rebuilding to become a modern, technologically advanced facility that provides full-service general and emergency care, offers free services to patients who cannot pay, and serves as an educator of the next generation of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

Calmette has also been rebuilding something else, thanks to a collaboration with Emory University: the hospital’s culture.

Director General of Calmette Hospital Dr. Chheang Ra made a visit to Emory University in 2018 at the invitation of John and Cammie Rice. John Rice is Chair of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Committee and a trustee of the Emory University Board, and Cammie Rice is founder of anti-opioid organization Christopher Wolf Crusade and a member of Emory Global Health Institute’s Global Health Council. The intention of the visit was to explore potential opportunities for collaboration between Emory University and Calmette Hospital.

During his visit, Dr. Ra shared his goal of building a more patient-centered care culture at Calmette. Feedback from patients made clear that many did not feel listened to or able to communicate effectively with their doctors and nurses.

“I was already deeply aware that strong improvement in communication skills—which comprises a sustainable knowledge-sharing culture and a clear positive change in the attitudes of healthcare professionals and leaders—is a major driver for complete satisfaction and long-lasting success for everyone,” Ra says.

Calmette Hospital training group photo

Among those who met with Dr. Ra was Dr. Jenny Goedken, an associate professor and director of undergraduate education for the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Emory School of Medicine. Goedken is a member of the advisory committee for the Emory Global Health Residency Scholars program, which provides medical residents with a year-long global health curriculum that includes a month-long elective at a hospital in Ethiopia.

Though at first she thought the Ethiopian peer-to-peer model would work well in Calmette, she quickly realized that faculty development would best address the identified need. So Goedken and Dr. Dawn Comeau—a research professor in behavioral, social, and health education sciences at the Rollins School of Public Health—worked with Dr. Ra and his team to design a training program for mentorship and patient communications.

“Combining patient-centered communication and mentorship training allowed us to help improve their skills,” Comeau says. “Many of the skills are interconnected, such as understanding diverse working styles and providing effective feedback. The mentorship training component teaches the fellows how to share skills and strategies with junior healthcare workers to shift hospital culture in a new direction.”

The Emory-Calmette Mentorship and Communication Training for Healthcare Providers program launched in 2019 with 14 participating fellows, a gender-diverse cohort that included nurses as well as doctors who were identified as leaders in their working units.

“One-quarter of the group was female and five of the 14 were nurses,” says Goedken. “We wanted it to be interdisciplinary and representative.”

The program included modules on learning and practicing patient-centered communication and peer mentoring; advocating for the importance of patient-centered communications and mentoring; and how to influence decisions, policy and norms within the healthcare system.

After an in-person kick-off in March 2019, the meetings shifted online. Preceded by topical reading assignments, each monthly session was led by a rotating team of two fellows. The program continued with a three-day in-person training that focused on how the fellows could take what they learned and disseminate it. This was followed by a one-day symposium, during which some participant faculty were showcased, sharing their newly acquired knowledge with the healthcare community at Calmette and beyond.

“About 100 people joined — healthcare providers, educators and community leaders,” says Goedken. “Cambodia’s Minister of Health made a surprise visit. It was kind of like a graduation.”

Fellows reported a positive experience with the program. One fellow said, “The training is an amazing lecture for healthcare practitioners to improve their daily responsibilities.”

Another fellow said, “After participating in the ECMC training, I understand how important mentorship is in my career and also workplace.”

Another fellow saw improved patient satisfaction after using new communication skills, saying, “I get more trust from my patients.”

Indeed, the picture has been steadily improving at Calmette, says Ra.

“Since this program has been put in place,” he said, “a more positive culture in effective communication and a strong motivation for mentoring have been clearly perceived and reported by our leaders.”

Hacking the Hackathons

Since the start of the pandemic, Jay Desai—an Emory University senior currently pursuing his bachelor’s in science in biology and chemistry and researching such topics as artificial intelligence applications—has competed in at least 21 hackathons around the world, which bring together big thinkers to collaborate on projects during a short time period.

And he has earned more than $30,000 in prize money.

In March, his low-cost device that helps blind students “see” by using cloud-based AI computer vision algorithms and an intuitive haptic feedback interface won Microsoft’s Hack for Accessibility. In April, he developed an automated, low-cost device that can diagnose diseases from tissue samples. The project placed third internationally at Microsoft’s AI Hackathon.

Image of FireForce fire detection system

At both of these hackathons, he was the only undergraduate student to place in the top three.

Lately his hackathon work has “specifically focused on disasters—what are the biggest problems we have in 2021?” says the Las Vegas native.

It was this focus that brought Desai to the EGHI/GT Disaster Hack in September. The virtual hackathon provides Emory and Georgia Tech students an opportunity to create novel solutions to problems caused by extreme weather and natural disasters. The goal is for student teams to develop marketable products. Teams competed for cash prizes and the opportunity to take their solution to market through Tech’s CREATE-X Startup Launch in 2022.

The theme in 2021 focused on finding solutions to address disasters and extreme weather.

Desai’s entry with partner Deepak Ramalingam, a Georgia Tech computer science major, received first prize for FireForce, a wildfire early-detection system that pairs inexpensive sensors with transmitters. If the sensors detect a possible fire, an alert to the FireForce server will dispatch an autonomous, camera-equipped drone to conduct a visual inspection. This allows small teams to monitor enormous areas.

“We thought of the biggest preventable disasters we could, outside of COVID-19, and the thing that came to mind was wildfires,” Desai says. “Hackathons like this are a great opportunity for students to stop doing a school for a bit and try solve real world problems."

Story Time: "COVID-19 Helpers"

During the COVID-19 pandemic, young school-aged children have been particularly vulnerable to anxiety and stress. EGHI wanted to help. So we invited writers and illustrators to create an eBook that would provide age-appropriate, factual, validating, and reassuring information for children ages six to nine.
Dr. Diana Pontell reads "COVID-19 Helpers" to her children.

Pediatrician and Emory undergraduate alumna Dr. Diana Pontell reads "COVID-19 Helpers" to her children.

“COVID-19 Helpers,” written by Beth Bacon and illustrated by Kary Lee, was crowned the winner, earning the creators a shared $10,000 prize, plus promotion of the book on the EGHI website, social media platforms, and in EGHI promotional materials.
Emory School of Medicine decided to take this a step further, printing 9,000 copies of the book and stapling it into the magazines sent to alumni.
One such alumna, Dr. Ana Maria Pimentel—who completed her residency at Emory Medical School, is the co-director of a Grady neighborhood clinic, and serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory—hopes to share copies of the book with her patients.
“I like the way the pandemic is explained in a way that is easy for young children to understand,” she says. “I would encourage the parents to read and discuss the book with their children.”

Westerberg Prize Winner Announced

In honor of potter and artist Warren Westerberg—the late spouse of founding EGHI staff member Roseanne Waters—EGHI in 2018 began offering an annual prize for members of the Emory community who create innovative works that bridge global health and the arts to inspire, initiate and support action.

The 2021 winner of the Warren Westerberg Global Health and the Arts Prize is Hannah Ranson, a Rollins School of Public Health alumna.

“This series explores the innate sense of mistrust felt by people of color that has been passed down through intergenerational trauma and lived experiences,” she says.

Image of a physican from Westerberg winning entry

Suchdev Heads To Guatemala

At the end of this year, Dr. Parminder Suchdev will be taking a sabbatical from his position as EGHI’s associate director to take on a two-year assignment with the U.S. CDC’s Central America Regional Office in Guatemala City. He will continue his advisory roles with CHAMPS and the School of Medicine’s Global Health & Equity Office and return to Atlanta periodically to do clinical work. We at EGHI wish him all the best and eagerly await his return.

Dr. Parmi Suchdev

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