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In 2002, six University of Kentucky medical residents traveled to Ecuador for a medical brigade with Tom Young, M.D., University of Kentucky College of Medicine professor of pediatrics and founder of Shoulder to Shoulder Global.

Upon their return, the small group shared their experiences with their peers and interest in global health brigades rose. Just four years later, that group of six had turned into 30, and Shoulder to Shoulder Global was born. 

Shoulder to Shoulder Global (STSG) is a University of Kentucky Global Health Initiatives organization housed in the UK International Center that gives students, faculty, staff, and community members the opportunities to help improve the health and well-being of an underserved community in Santo Domingo, Ecuador.

Over 40,000 patients from resource-poor communities have attended one of UK's interprofessional health brigades in Ecuador to receive healthcare they may not have otherwise had access to. 

STSG offers both in-person and virtual options to participate and has four brigades for UK students to join. Full-time students, across all academic majors, can even receive class credit for their work.

The program offers cultural and service-learning opportunities where students will be able to provide communities with basic medical and dental care, health education, school health screenings, women’s health, home visits and community-based learning.

Virtual brigade students participate in multiple virtual interactive and inter-professional experiences including clinical consults, cultural learning opportunities and an overview of the Ecuadorian health system. 

UK College of Public Health student Katie Wittman attended a brigade for the STSG program in June this past summer after learning about it from a Canvas announcement. As a public health student, Wittman benefitted from the clinical experiences, like scribing for physicians and taking vitals with nurses.

“Because I was able to work with and observe so many professionals, I was also able to grasp the importance of working together and how it influences the health outcomes of an individual and even a population,” said Wittman.

Nadia Sesay is a student in the UK College of Communication & Information studying health communication and excited to attend the brigade. Sesay was looking forward to preparing and delivering charlas, or brief presentations, to the students at the local school. She was pleased the brigade experience allowed both for both clinic and charla opportunities.

“The talks focused on adolescent interest areas including personal hygiene, reproduction, mental health and drugs,” said Sesay. “The topics were selected by our partners in Ecuador, so we spoke to the main concerns of young people in that country.”

Dr. Ketrell McWhorter, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the UK College of Public Health has been on two brigades with the STSG program and told the students prior to leaving for the trip that they will leave with more than what they take. 

As director of the Graduate Certificate in Global Health, McWhorter’s role on the most recent brigade in June was to oversee the charlas. As a public health professional, she also pushes the students to understand the importance of field experiences.

“Any interaction that our students, particularly at the undergraduate level, can have with a low-income community to serve and see the direct effect their service can have on some of the most grateful recipients yields such a great return, not only personally, but also professionally,” said McWhorter. “Public health is about using empathy to care for the community.”

The STSG program is providing clinical and preventive services in multiple locations in Santo Domingo, Ecuador, which serve as sites for the UK-led brigades. In addition to the services at the Centro de Salud Hombro a Hombro (CSHH), partnerships have been established with the Tsáchilas people, a traditional indigenous group from the Santo Domingo area who live in small, isolated rural communities outside the city limits. The brigades also provide services in Plan de Vivienda, an impoverished community located near the CSHH. 

For more information on STSG, visit