After spending 30 years in the public health field and traveling to 50 international countries, Dr. Michele Devlin is more than valuable to the UNI teaching faculty. In addition to devoting her time to UNI students as a professor of Global Health, Devlin is also the executive director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities.
The Iowa Center on Health Disparities provides statewide academic leadership to address and reduce health disparities among immigrant, minority and medically underserved groups in the state. Although a rural state, Iowa is currently experiencing significant population changes as many companies hire and employ refugees and immigrants from Latin America, European, Southeast Asia and African countries.
Located on the UNI campus, the Iowa Center was formed after receiving a $1,000,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2003. Devlin herself works to help develop competency in global and international health standards. The Iowa Center has become the state's leading research, consulting and education organization on health equity issues.
Devlin provides experience and hands-on work directly to her students so they can experience health education programming firsthand in the field. Her students are involved in planning health eduction campaigns and programming their "applied knowledge."
Outside of the classroom, students have additional opportunities to gain international health knowledge and build their personal networks through the Global Health Corps (GHC) student organization. Established in 1996 by Devlin and Dr. Susan Koch, the Global Health Corps is a campus organization focused on improving the ability of health and related students to conduct culturally appropriate programming with diverse and underserved clients. During the course of the organization's 15 years in operation, 400 students have been involved with serving approximately 40,000 clients in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The global health field is for health promotion students who want to go "above and beyond" to work with underserved populations in low-resource, hardship settings. Many health promotion students are involved with the club and are working toward a certificate in global health or a degree in health promotion with a focus on health disparities. The GHC itself is a very diverse organization and attracts health eduction, global studies, social work, pre-medical, family services, and foreign language majors to engage in its operations. Different nationalities are also represented within this student organization where students who enjoy the challenge of living and working on the edge have opportunities to listen to guest speakers on health and human rights issues; build their resumes through volunteer experiences; and engage in service projects and medical missions. Devlin says these students may end up working with inner city health issues in the United States, on Native American reservations, in a non-governmental organization in Africa or anywhere in between.
Devlin is currently engaged in more than a dozen different projects within the Iowa Center of Health Disparities which are funded by state and federal grants and contracts. Some of these projects include coordinating a statewide social marketing campaign to increase minority utilization of colon cancer screenings; developing regional minority health coalitions through six regions in the state; reducing methamphetamine use among low-income rural families through parent mentors; and helping lower the percentage of minority children in the child welfare and foster care system in Iowa. Dr. Devlin is also widely published, and has authored several books on cross-cultural health care and immigration issues, as well as numerous scientific articles and reports.
Devlin's own work often takes her away from UNI as the Director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, where she is one of the primary providers to the state and Midwest for training and technical consulting on culturally competent health care, health literacy, and medical interpretation. She partners with health departments and hospitals domestically and internationally, and instructs staff on how to improve their communication with their patients in a more effective manner. Devlin is also working in Iowa with a concept termed "reverse culture competency." Medical doctors from various cultures and regions of the world, now employed in Iowa, are being trained on how to effectively treat and communicate with rural Iowa patients.
Devlin visited India during the summer of 2011. While there she worked with the "untouchables" and blind girls on a community eye health project, and in March 2012 she will be working on a medical mission in Nicaragua. In May she will then be traveling to Turkey to participate in a faculty exchange program between UNI and the University of Gediz, where she will be teaching a short course on disaster relief and refugee emergency health.
No matter what country Devlin finds herself in, there is always a need for addressing the healthcare needs of diverse and underserved populations. As Iowa and the rest of the world experience greater globalization, students can only take away more and more valuable information from Dr. Devlin about how dynamic and important the field of international health is becoming.