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Celebrating Health Worker Stories at the 9th Annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference

World Health Worker Week is an annual opportunity to celebrate all the ways in which health workers count. From their impact on the lives of patients, to their support of colleagues and those in training, and ultimately to the difference they make in their communities—at HVO we recognize that health workers have the power to transform lives, and we are dedicated to providing the global health workforce with the resources to do so.

Our monitoring and evaluation team, including HVO’s Evaluation Coordinator Meng Xiong, have the unique role of capturing and quantifying all the ways the health workers in our global health community—from volunteers to local providers at our project sites—are transforming lives in their communities and beyond. Mr. Xiong was eager to disseminate the information collected by the monitoring and evaluation team to a wider audience outside of the stakeholders already familiar with HVO’s mission and our short-term, education-based volunteer model.

“Looking at all this data, there really is a lot of evidence for successful volunteerism through the HVO model,” he explained during a recent phone interview. “I figured it would be nice to have another way to showcase the data on a broader scale.”

Mr. Xiong found a way through the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) 9th Annual Conference in New York City last month. The theme of the conference was “Health Disparities: A Time for Action.” Mr. Xiong submitted a poster titled, “Health Volunteers Overseas 2016 Review of Programs: Evidence for Successful Volunteerism and International Partnerships to Address the Global Health Workforce Shortage,” which was accepted and showcased at the conference. He also delivered a short presentation summarizing the content of his poster to an audience of attendees.

Mr. Xiong described his poster and presentation as a look at HVO’s impact by the numbers. Key numbers he used to exemplify the impact of individual projects included the number of volunteers sent, the number of assignments completed (including multiple assignments completed by a single volunteer), and the number of providers trained. He also discussed the areas where the greatest improvements were reported by project sites, including staff skills and staff attitudes. Another area of impact Mr. Xiong was eager to convey to CUGH conference attendees was the beneficial impact experienced by HVO volunteers.

“HVO’s mission is not just improving, helping, and strengthening health systems through strengthening the health workforce, but also benefitting volunteers,” he said, adding that roughly 90% of returned volunteers report reciprocal benefits such as improved cultural competency and a broadened global health perspective.

“It’s opening up their perspectives,” said Mr. Xiong, “It is great to see how much HVO volunteers enjoy volunteering.”

The presentation was also an opportunity to explore some of the challenges HVO currently faces in terms of monitoring and evaluation. One challenge Mr. Xiong wished he had more time to discuss during his presentation was the difficulty of measuring improvements in patient outcomes at HVO project sites. At present, this information is reported by on-site coordinators, who are health professionals in charge of overseeing volunteers activities at HVO’s partnering institutions. Often, on-site coordinators will report improved patient outcomes, but the institutions themselves lack the resources and internal mechanisms necessary to track and record this information.

The solution, from Mr. Xiong’s perspective, is to continue to expand the scope of HVO’s work to focus on building the capacity not just of individual health workers but entire health systems in the countries where we work. Summarizing HVO’s existing monitoring and evaluation data for the purposes of this presentation, “gave me ideas for how HVO can expand the scope of its work to help with measuring workforce capacity building,” Mr. Xiong reported.

Of course, individual health workers and their stories of impact remain at the heart of the HVO mission. Mr. Xiong felt it was important to communicate this impact with his audience of CUGH attendees.

“Each data point we collect is bigger than just a number. There is always a bigger picture behind every number, table, and figure,” he said, adding that he felt it was important to, “Dig deeper than the numbers and share the stories and context behind the numbers.”

Due to the time constraints on his presentation, Mr. Xiong had to select just one health worker story to highlight. He chose the recent report from HVO volunteer and leader Linda Wolff, MPT, on her experience delivering the World Health Organization’s Wheelchair Service Training to physiotherapists and physiotherapy assistants in Thimphu, Bhutan. There were a few numbers in Ms. Wolff’s report that helped encapsulate the impact of the training—numbers such as 13 providers trained and 220 wheelchairs provided to children and adults in need—but what stuck with Mr. Xiong the most was not a number, but a quote from Ms. Wolff’s report, which he shared during his presentation:

With mobility comes participation in school, work, household chores, and spiritual and community activities. With mobility comes freedom, independence, and the ability to lead a productive and fulfilling life.”

“If I was to give a presentation just focused on numbers and tables it is hard to illustrate the true impact of HVO’s work,” Mr. Xiong reflected. “What is really important are the stories and being able to illustrate what is happening on the ground. The numbers really are just a proxy. I feel when you are able to share a story it helps you drive your point home.”

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