The McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI) at McGill University is a multi-disciplinary program, developed over past three years under the direction of Kirsten Johnson, MD, MPH. HSI seeks “to provide a combination of evidence- and competency-based knowledge, skills, hands-on experience and international networking that is essential to graduating professionals in this field.” Located in Montreal, the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec, McGill’s HSI has been a contributing member of PAATCHH since its beginnings in 2011.
Within the McGill community, HSI trains both graduate students from a variety of disciplines (including engineering, nursing, physiotherapy, and social work) as well as resident physicians from all specialties at the Faculty of Medicine. In addition, because the program is unique within Canada, students from neighboring universities including McMaster University in Hamilton and Queens University, travel over 500 kilometers (300 miles) to participate in the weekly sessions. Students from partnering organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have also participated in the past.
The program prepares participants for humanitarian responses to disasters and refugee crises by pairing academic inquiry with practical application. Students learn through a combination of university-based seminars taught by experts in various related fields, guided research alongside mentors, forest-based disaster simulations, and supervised field placement.
Since it began in 2009, the HSI program has become a model for humanitarian education and training both in North America and internationally. For example, HSI’s unique disaster simulations, hosted annually in partnership with Harvard University, have been so popular as to inspire the offering of the simulation in Canada (starting in 2013) in partnership with McMaster University, York University, the University of Toronto, Doctors Without Borders, and the Canadian Red Cross. HSI’s influence also extends via its vast network of program graduates, who have participated in field placements with such renowned international organizations as Doctors Without Borders, Medecins du Monde, the American Refugee Committee, Health Education and Relief Through Teaching (HEARTT) and the World Health Organization, among others, and whose field placements have taken them to locations across Africa (the Darfur region of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Somaliland, and Uganda), Latin America (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Asia (India).