On Becoming a Global Citizen: Transformative Learning Through Global Health Experiences

Debra K. Litzelman, Adrian Gardner, Robert M. Einterz, Philip Owiti, Charity Wambui, Jordan C. Huskins, Kathleen M. Schmitt-Wendholt, Geren S. Stone, Paul O. Ayuo, Thomas S. Inui, Rachel A. Umoren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Background Globalization has increased the demand for international experiences in medical education. International experiences improve medical knowledge, clinical skills, and self-development; influence career objectives; and provide insights on ethical and societal issues. However, global health rotations can end up being no more than tourism if not structured to foster personal transformation and global citizenship. Objective We conducted a qualitative assessment of trainee-reported critical incidents to more deeply understand the impact of our global health experience on trainees. Methods A cross-sectional survey was administered to trainees who had participated in a 2-month elective in Kenya from January 1989 to May 2013. We report the results of a qualitative assessment of the critical incident reflections participants (n = 137) entered in response to the prompt, “Write about one of your most memorable experiences and explain why you chose to describe this particular one.” Qualitative analyses were conducted using thematic analysis and crystallization immersion analytic methods based on the principles of grounded theory, employing a constructivists’ research paradigm. Findings Four major themes emerged. These themes were Opening Oneself to a Broader World View; Impact of Suffering and Death; Life-Changing Experiences; and Commitment to Care for the Medically Underserved. Conclusions Circumstances that learners encounter in the resource-scarce environment in Kenya are eye-opening and life-changing. When exposed to these frame-shifting circumstances, students elaborate on or transform existing points of view. These emotionally disruptive experiences in an international health setting allowed students to enter a transformational learning process with a global mind. Students can see the world as an interdependent society and develop the capacity to advance both their enlightened self-interest and the interest of people elsewhere in the world as they mature as global citizens. Medical schools are encouraged to foster these experiences by finding ways to integrate them into curriculum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)596-604
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Global Health
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 2017


  • global health
  • global health experience
  • medical education
  • student experience
  • training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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    Litzelman, D. K., Gardner, A., Einterz, R. M., Owiti, P., Wambui, C., Huskins, J. C., Schmitt-Wendholt, K. M., Stone, G. S., Ayuo, P. O., Inui, T. S., & Umoren, R. A. (2017). On Becoming a Global Citizen: Transformative Learning Through Global Health Experiences. Annals of Global Health, 83(3-4), 596-604. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aogh.2017.07.005