Second-year student Max Moor-Smith talks about his Summer Student Research project in India

Each summer, students from across the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s MD Undergraduate Program have the opportunity to pursue their passion for medical research and work closely with faculty members from across the province through the Faculty of Medicine’s Summer Student Research Program (FoM SSRP).

From exploring the benefits of exercise for stroke recovery to understanding how to provide culturally safe care, students in the FoM’s SSRP take a deeper look into a wide variety of research topics.

We connected with Max Moor-Smith, a second-year student in the Island Medical Program, to learn more about his work on sustainable health education in Spiti Valley, India.


Can you briefly describe your project?

The India Spiti Health Project, established in 2006 in partnership with the Munsel-ling Boarding School, in Spiti Valley, India, is part of the UBC Global Health Initiative. Each year, a multidisciplinary team of UBC students travel to the school and assist with health promotion projects.

This year, our team focused on providing sustainable health education for students. We met with the Student Health Council, a group of senior students responsible for promoting healthy behaviors to younger students. Together, we decided on the medium we’d use (video) and the health messages we’d share: handwashing before eating and after using the toilet, how to use the toilet properly, and brushing teeth at least once per day. We based our film’s storyline on Ghostbusters; our version was called Germbusters.

We recruited members of the Student Health Council as actors, who, in turn, recruited many of their younger friends to participate. Over fifty children were involved in the making of the movie.

On our last day at the school, with over 500 students in attendance, as well as school administration and teaching staff, we unveiled Germbusters. Before this assembly, I conducted a small focus group to evaluate the children’s perceptions of what healthy behaviours are and which of those they incorporated in their day-to-day lives. The responses revolved mostly around diet and bathing. After the film, I did a second focus group and asked the same questions. This time, the group’s responses also included handwashing, tooth-brushing, and using the toilet properly.

A copy of the film was left with the school administration. Plans were discussed to show it to the school on a semi-regular basis, as well as put it up on YouTube and possibly on local cable television.

Why were you interested in working on this project?

I’ve been interested in global health since well before medical school. The disparities in health between urban Canadians and much of the global population is something that I am keen to help improve. This project allowed me the opportunity to contribute to a successful longitudinal global health project that does a good job of addressing those disparities. Not only that, but the video project was meaningful for the kids involved. It’s my hope that the messages in the film will be more widely accepted due to the creative way they were presented.

What’s one thing that surprised you about the research?

How much fun it was! It was neat to participate in research that was so involved with the population it studies. I really enjoyed connecting with the kids and seeing them take ownership of the project themselves.

How will this research experience help you in your future medical studies?

Participating in the project makes me even more enthused about taking on more global health research projects in the future. With this experience, I feel I have gained a new perspective on how to address global health challenges, and that I’m well situated to continue with this type of work.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your project? How has it influenced your perspective on medicine and patient care?

The importance of the context in patient care. Patients do not live in isolation from their environment. I have a better understanding, now, that medicine deals with a person’s health in the context of their life; the care that person receives should reflect that.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Go to Spiti Valley – you will not regret it!

Support undergraduate students who want to explore their interests in medical research. The program is funded through the generous contributions of our donors and partners. Click here for more information on how to contribute.