This week marked an official start of the collaboration between University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and the Faculty of Medicine at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, Thailand. Prince of Songkla University (PSU) hosted the UM PSU Population Health Conference where both schools signed a Memorandum of Understanding for International Collaboration. It was an incredible experience to partake in this conference: faculty and students from both universities were excited to discuss their current research, as well as their future plans for collaboration. I was fortunate enough to travel to Thailand this summer as a student of Dr. Laura Rozek, who has conducted years of cancer research with a PSU faculty member Dr. Hutcha Sriplung. I feel like I hit the jackpot on this internship, and I bet many of the students and faculty feel the same way after visiting.
First, Thailand’s health is fascinating because the population is shifting from being sick with infectious diseases to chronic diseases. As the burden of disease changes, it is the perfect time to prepare Thailand’s infrastructure and understand how to best improve the population’s health.
Second, I feel especially lucky to work for and along side the people at PSU. There is so much to learn from them everyday, and they are the best hosts. From Dr. Hutcha taking every opportunity to teach us about plants, Thai culture, and (of course) statistics, to a faculty member happily calling our dorms to translate for us, we could not have asked for a better place to learn and conduct research.
When the team from UM visited, we not only attended the conference, but we were able to travel around Thailand as well. One of our first adventures was meeting a botanist that works with the royal family to conserve Nepenthes plants (tropical pitcher plants). Some of his efforts are similar to those we see in public health: he educates children to grow and take care of these plants so they will also spread the word to their community about conservation while gaining a love for science and research.
The next day we went to rural mining town where UM SPH masters student Kate Helmick is collecting samples for a project studying the effects of arsenic contaminated water. The UM staff were excited to see where she was working and were eager to ask questions and show their support. Our last trip was to see a man trained in traditional Thai medicine. He considers himself a man of many trades, which include astrology fortune-telling, medical diagnoses, and herbal medicine-making. All of us lined up for him examine our palms and forearms to hear his medical advice.
The opportunity to visit these places and collaborate with faculty from both UM and PSU was incredible, and these opportunities are just the beginning. I can already see how both sides will greatly benefit from working more together because it was clear that this group of researchers is eager to learn and support each other’s efforts in public health. I am glad I still have time to contribute to research here this summer, but I also cannot wait to see what other students and faculty will discover as they work together in this developing partnership.