Global Health at Home

puentesgrpThere are many ways to engage in global health activities without leaving Philadelphia:

Host an International Medical Student at Penn

Whether you are currently planning an international experience, have recently returned from one, or will engage in one some time in the future, hosting an international medical student is a positive way to reciprocate the hospitality you will no doubt experience in your travels. As a peer host, you will also develop another personal international contact.

Medical students from international institutions do clinical and/or research rotations here at Penn's School of Medicine. They are typically on campus for one to three months.

Peer hosts are Penn medical students who help visitors learn how to safely enjoy the campus and the city. They also provide social contacts for extracurricular activities.  They do not provide housing.  To facilitate your getting together, The Center for Global Health can arrange to pay for a meal for you and your international guest.  If you are willing to serve as a peer host, please contact The Center for Global Health


Puentes de Salud

Puentes de Salud is an ambulatory care health clinic dedicated to the service of the Latino population of the Philadelphia area.  Its mission is the promotion of the well-being of Philadelphia’s Latinos through low-cost, high-quality health care, community development, and innovative education programs which reflect evolving partnerships among individuals, community organizations, and academic institutions.

Puentes has several objectives: 1) To develop a sustainable, long-term strategy for health promotion and disease prevention; 2) To provide medical services targeting the acute and chronic health needs of the population; 3) To create a research partnership between the university and community that will guide best practices for the care of Latino patients both locally and nationally.  Several guiding principles inform the activities of Puentes: Working collaboratively with communities and stakeholders; Addressing social determinants of health; and Operating in multidisciplinary professional teams.

Volunteer opportunities: The clinic is staffed by volunteer health professionals and students.  Each year, about 50 Penn students work at Puentes, offering their services at an appropriate level of training and competence. For more information and to volunteer contact Puentes de Salud:

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Penn Language Link

Penn Language Link is a group of medical, nursing and undergraduate students who provide volunteer interpreter services to patients with Limited English Proficiency throughout the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS).  Volunteers reduce cultural barriers to care, ensure effective doctor-patient communication, gain valuable clinical experience, and get to have a great time doing it. 

To become a Penn Language Link Interpreter, you must have fluency in the language.  Each prospective interpreter is interviewed in the relevant language by one of the current certified interpreters to ensure language fluency.  To volunteer, even if you are unsure about your language ability, please contact a coordinator (Nancy Etzel, Marc Hoffmann, or Gabriela Marein-Efron) who will arrange an assessment to determine if you will be able to help out.  Once selected, interpreters undergo a 16-hour certification program where they learn medical interpretation techniques and receive training in cross-cultural competency.  Upon completion of this program, volunteers are certified medical interpreters, ready for the hospital.  Those who speak more than one language only need to train once for certification in all relevant languages.

A Note on History:  Penn Language Link was founded in 1997 through the partnership of a University of Pennsylvania medical student named Joyce Lee, Dr. Steven Larson, Hilda Luiggi, and HUP’s Department of Patient and Guest Services.  Growth has been impressive -- the result of dedicated service by a number of special students.  Read more about it.

For additional information about Penn Language Link and their current projects, visit their website.


Learn Medical Spanish

Medical Spanish courses are offered free of charge by the School of Medicine during the fall and spring semesters.  The courses are taught in the evening by faculty from area universities who specialize in Medical Spanish.  Classes are offered at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.  No prior Spanish knowledge is required to enroll in the beginning level.  Students wishing to enroll in the intermediate level course should have a working knowledge of basic Spanish language, grammar, as well as basic conversation skills, while advanced students should have conversational fluency as this course is conducted entirely in Spanish.  Format of the classes varies according to level.  The beginning course focuses on skills needed for basic doctor-patient communication, the intermediate course goal is to enhance vocabulary and refine the conversational skills needed in a medical context, and the advanced course aims to enable Spanish speakers to build the medical vocabulary needed to obtain a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam in various specialties.  The Medical Spanish course is coordinated by medical students who announce the schedule in the first two weeks of September. Please contact the Faculty advisor, Dr. Iris Reyes,, for more information. 


Bridging the Gaps (BTG)

Bridging the Gaps (BTG) links the training of health and social service professionals with the provision of health-related services for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations.   

BTG includes the Community Health Internship Program (BTG CHIP), in all locations, as well as two additional components in Philadelphia: the BTG Seminar Series and the BTG Clinical Program. Each academic year, students representing health and social service disciplines, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, social work, creative arts in therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacology, public health, law, health psychology, and related disciplines take part in BTG.

BTG began in 1991 at one academic health center in Philadelphia. Five years later, all of Philadelphia’s academic health centers had adopted the program. Today, BTG is administered in Philadelphia by the Bridging the Gaps Consortium, which comprises representatives from Drexel University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Temple University, Thomas Jefferson University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia also includes affiliated programs at Bryn Mawr College (social work), La Salle University (nursing), and University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Based on the Philadelphia model, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh implemented their own programs and joined with the Consortium to form the Bridging the Gaps Network. Most recently, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey established an affiliated program in New Jersey, and a program was established in the Lehigh Valley through collaboration between the Lehigh Valley Health Network and Desales University.

Over the years, BTG's work has been recognized locally and nationally by the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the American College of Physicians, the Philadelphia County Medical Society, and the American Red Cross, as well as community-based and corporate entities.

To learn more, visit the BTG website, and select the "Clinical Program," including information on how to apply.


Last updated:  May 10, 2016

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