Sarah Smith, Class of 2014, receives the 2013 Penn State Spirit of Internationalization Award

Sarah Smith in Zambia during an away rotation through the Global Health Scholars Program at Penn State College of Medicine

The Global Health Center at Penn State College of Medicine was established in 2008 to expand the scope of the institution's medical education program and to meet the growing need for high quality health care in the developing world. Through the Center, students can apply to take part in the Global Health Scholars Program (GHSP)—a comprehensive, four-year curriculum focused on education, patient care, and research in a global context. The program continually attracts well-rounded students to the College of Medicine and equips them to affect global health change in impoverished communities throughout South America and Africa.

Sarah Smith is one student who has not only benefitted from the GHSP, but has also helped to shape its development over the last four years. Hailing from State College, PA, Sarah plans to pursue a career in General Surgery, with a particular interest in improving the health of people in Africa. Sarah has served as a mentor for other students who have traveled to Africa through the GHSP, and this year she received Penn State's Spirit of Internationalization Award for her dedicated medical mission work in third world countries. Click here to learn more about the award and Sarah's passion for global health.

Sarah is currently completing her third global health rotation on the continent this year, and she recently shared the following from Zambia:

I am currently in Lusaka, Zambia, completing a four-week elective in General Surgery at the University Teaching Hospital. I am working with a surgeon who I met six years ago when he came to Penn State University and gave a lecture entitled "Practicing Medicine in Sub-Saharan Africa." His lecture sparked my interest in global health, and I subsequently completed an eight-week internship that he organized in Zambia. It is very gratifying to get to train with him now as a fourth-year medical student, combining my two passions—surgery and Africa. This elective is the second of three surgery electives I set up in Africa for my fourth year. I just finished one in Rwanda and will be going to Kenya* next to work at an obstetric fistula clinic. My global health experiences have shaped my understanding of medicine by showing me a side of medicine we don't typically see in the United States. The diseases we see here in Africa are often very advanced. Patients often come from very far away, from villages where there are no doctors. At times we are unable to help them, which is very difficult. But it is incredibly gratifying when we are able to make a difference. To me, medicine is about using my knowledge to help alleviate the suffering of others, and I've found that in Africa I am able to make a significant difference.

I hope to continue to be involved in projects in Africa in the future. I can envision myself leading students and residents to experience how medicine is practiced there and to broaden their perspectives on how we as health care providers can make a difference in a patient's life.

*Due to the recent unrest in Kenya, Sarah traveled to Ethiopia instead to continue her studies and work. You can support students, like Sarah, and help ensure that future students have formative experiences in global health. Visit to make a gift.