The University of Virginia (UVa) MHIRT Program: Training Future Leaders to Address Global Rural Health Disparities will provide 8 outstanding students (6 undergraduate and 2 graduate) with the opportunity to participate in an intensive, international, mentored research experience that extends the analysis of global rural health disparities beyond assessments of disparate access to care between rural and urban communities and uses instead the lens of population health and an interdisciplinary approach in order to appreciate more completely the complexity of global rural health and disease. The awards will be offered for 5 years. The UVa MHIRT Program will attract outstanding applicants through a network of organizations at UVa and regionally that reach out to students from groups under-represented in the health sciences. Through participation in the UVa MHIRT program, the participation of the trainees in careers in health-related biological, physical and social sciences and the health professions will increase. This goal will be achieved by building the following capacities in the UVa MHIRT Scholars. First, the Scholars will gain knowledge, skills, and experience in research design, conduct, and presentation. Second, they will develop and apply culturally respectful practices in research. Thirdly, they will participate on inter-disciplinary tams and recognize the importance of multiple perspectives when addressing rural global health challenges. Finally, the students will identify and pursue professional and academic opportunities based on the mentorship and networking opportunities provided. The internship will include an 8 week research experience at one of our 4 collaborating international sites: the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa;Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Mbarara, Uganda;St Kitts and Nevis;and Grand Bahama Island. Experienced faculty and practitioners from UVa and the collaborating sites who maintain close ties to each other and to the rural communities they serve will mentor the students. Two sites will host students each year in a regular rotation. Research topics will relate to issues prioritized in the rural communities where the MHIRT Scholars will work such as: HIV management;water borne disease prevention;and new models for diabetes care. In addition to the 8 week research period, the students will benefit from individualized mentoring beginning with selection in February of the year of their internship, a one week Pre-Departure workshop and Cultural Orientation Training at UVa in the last week of May, and a one week Post-Research Season Workshop and Debrief in the first week of August. In October of the year of the award, the students will return to UVa to present their work at the UVa Center for Global Health Student Research Symposium. This comprehensive program will support students from hypothesis generation, through data gathering and analysis, and all the way to manuscript writing and presentation. In addition, the UVa MHIRT program will provide students with the opportunity to develop critical "soft" skills necessary for community-based or community-inspired health-related research and inter-disciplinary collaboration.
Rural health disparities persist worldwide, even as health care practitioners and scientists strive to develop innovative approaches and interventions to diminish them. Students from groups, who experience health disparities, including rural students and under-represented minorities, are also under-represented in international study and research abroad programs. It is critical to expand the participation of well-trained under- represented students in global health research programs and subsequently in the ranks of leading health scientists and practitioners, so that the research agenda is refined and expanded by their perspectives.