Practicing medicine is one of the most prestigious positions in any society. However, medical training is largely devoid of any social, political or economic context. It makes sense; people go to medical school to study medicine, not development. However, the two might be more intertwined than the average med student realizes.
The modern world is made so much smaller by innovations in transportation and communication that practicing medicine can hardly be considered a local phenomenon anymore.
The greatest evidence of this was the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which was treated as a local phenomenon until it wasn’t. In the future, outbreaks of highly infectious disease might be more effectively curtailed by a more globally-minded body of medical professionals.
Billions of flight passengers each year means that apparently localized infectious diseases have the potential to spread more than ever before. The average medical student, not just virologists and infectious disease experts, should be equipped to deal with the impact of epidemics in a highly connected world.
Furthermore, the migration of individuals means that doctors no longer deal only with the epidemiology of their particular locale, but the locale of their patient’s place of origin.
Cancers and infectious diseases affect different local populations in different ways, but migration is so common these days that doctors face an increasingly wider range of idiosyncrasies in treating their patients.
The poor, anywhere in the world, suffer from a greater disease burden, so enhancing knowledge of poverty-related health issues would improve the practice of any medical professional.
Another way in which an awareness of the developing world might improve a doctor’s practice might be actual technical and experiential innovations that come out of poorer areas.
In developing countries, doctors must operate with a much narrower range of resources, and are thus forced to create cost-cutting measures or innovations from which doctors in wealthier countries could benefit greatly.
In India, for example, healthcare professionals developed an inexpensive and portable ECG machine to meet the demand of rural patients.
In Mozambique, limited human resources have led to training programs for skilled healthcare professionals which teach them how to perform routine surgeries. The cost of training these surgeons is far less than traditional doctors, and the surgical outcomes are equivalent.
The western world is increasingly recognizing the potential of healthcare innovations in poorer countries. It was for this reason that Western University in Canada held a “reverse innovation” competition in which medical advances in developing countries were applied to the context of the Canadian health system.
Canada has a somewhat overburdened and sluggish healthcare system, and the competition was designed to show how wealthy countries might apply more efficient medical practices from supposedly less advanced systems in places like India and Mozambique.
Educating medical students in a broader cultural context would make for a more flexible, aware and adaptive body of medical professionals. Medicine is no longer a local phenomenon; just as economies, cultures, and global governance have become intertwined in a shrinking world, so, too, have medical practices.
Injecting global health into the medical curriculum encourages students to think about how their practice might be improved by low-income locales and vice-versa.
– Derek Marion