Dr. Leslie Walwyn is passionate about transforming communities through preventive health measures. As a Professor at American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine in the Global Health Track and Chair of the Department of Clinical Medicine, Dr. Walwyn teaches AUA students how to develop the diverse skillsets they will need in the future.
“Clinical medicine isn’t just about how to take a patient history,” she said. “There’s an art to interacting with patients. It requires empathy and perception. As a doctor, you need to be able to take in what the patient is saying – but also what they don’t say. You need to be able to transcend any cultural differences or invisible biases to make sure you’re getting the proper message. By the end of the second year, students know how to extract a good patient history and apply critical thinking to diagnose and treat that patient.”
In the Global Health Track, Dr. Walwyn is educating students on how to address complex public health challenges at a global level. Global Health Track students examine what factors – whether war, poverty, or climate change – make populations more vulnerable to communicable and non-communicable diseases. They study healthcare systems around the world to understand the strengths and drawbacks of each, and how medical professionals can work within different systems.
“Our students know how to identify the features of a good healthcare system and appreciate how international agencies can work together toward common goals,” said Dr. Walwyn. “As doctors, they’re there to make a difference, but they need to be able to fit into an existing system and overcome real challenges to help a population.”
Dr. Walwyn started a nonprofit organization in Antigua called Integrated Health Outreach (IHO), with her partner, Nicola Bird, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and wellness expert. Integrated Health Outreach’s mission is to promote environmental, mental, and emotional well-being through sustainable and cost-effective programs. The organization has received funding from the Government of Antigua and Barbados, the Canadian government, and the United Nations Development Programme.
“What we realized is that you can’t address physical health issues or prevent chronic disease, whether it’s obesity or quitting smoking, without addressing mental health challenges,” said Dr. Walwyn. “IHO takes a holistic approach to improving self-efficacy, self-respect, and self-belief. It’s been working tremendously so far.”
The organization is operating initiatives in local primary schools and community programs. One program helps improve outcomes for teenage mothers or expectant mothers, and another assists residents in flood-prone areas affected by climate change build resilience.
In schools, teachers who receive training to help their students with emotional regulation are also experiencing benefits.
“Teachers are feeling less stress, and they’re helping their students at the same time,” said Dr. Walwyn. “In one basic exercise, students simply learn to center themselves by breathing and identifying their emotions. ‘What emotions am I feeling? Rage, happiness, frustration?’ They learn to feel the bad and the good and deal with both. When they’re faced with a conflict, they know they are in control and can change their behavior. We’ve seen students’ behavior and grades improve because of the program.”
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