Menu Icon Search
Close Search

On a Mission

Created April 18, 2012 by Alison Hayward, MD
Share


Global health: it’s a vast topic, one that spans everything from tropical and neglected diseases, to humanitarian aid, to disaster relief, to public policy, to public health campaigns for disease prevention, and health promotion. In our increasingly globalized world, students training for careers in the health professions have become increasingly interested and engaged in health issues outside the borders of their own country.

The precise definition of ‘global health’ is elusive. It is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘international health’, however, in recent years, international health has fallen out of favor. The reasoning behind the terminology change was that ‘international health’ is felt to emphasize the differences between nations, and to imply a unilateral movement of aid from one nation to another, whereas the term global health has a more inclusive connotation and underscores the importance of a collective approach to addressing health issues.

More and more, students are seeking out opportunities for voluntary service either prior to starting their graduate studies, or during the studies. In fact, the American Association of Medical Colleges Graduation Questionnaire from 2010 revealed that 30% of students had participated in at least one global health experience. The phenomenon speaks to the commitment towards service and spirit of altruism in this generation, but it also provides unprecedented exposure for untrained volunteers in culturally and ethically complex health situations.

Students may take part in opportunities ranging from spending a day or a weekend volunteering at a clinic or providing disaster relief to taking a year or multiple years to work abroad and gain in-depth experience in a developing country. Health professionals also frequently take part in such efforts, from the young physician who flies to Haiti with the idea of providing disaster relief, to the retired surgeon who travels abroad to provide surgical care free of charge in a developing country. This is in addition to a vibrant and growing community of health professionals and researchers who have been trained in global health or humanitarian aid through formal channels, such as international fellowship programs, humanitarian studies programs, or diplomas in tropical medicine and hygiene.

These experiences have amazing potential to change careers, change hearts and passions, and ideally, to improve health on a global level. In the best cases, all of these objectives are achieved. In the worst cases, not only can such projects be uninspiring and frustrating, they can even be harmful to those they purport to serve. Sadly, potentially harmful “medical missions” and global health projects might even be in the majority. This fact is not apparent to most of the general public or those who participate in the projects. The lack of dialogue at all levels about global health ethics is a major obstacle to allowing budding humanitarians to serve others in a way that is empowering, respectful, sustainable, and compassionate.

Part of the reason for this lack of dialogue is that the questions are very difficult. In many cases, there are serious disagreements about what the right answers are. The questions involve how to prioritize one life over another, how to spend resources when there is a limit to what you can spend. Americans are not used to dealing with resource constraints in health, as the outrage whenever a politician mentions healthcare ‘rationing’ illustrates. So what happens when Americans get involved in global health and find themselves stuck in an ethical quagmire? Stay tuned – we’ll explore this question further in future columns.

Alison Schroth Hayward, MD, is a board certified emergency medicine physician currently on the faculty at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2003, she co-founded a nonprofit called Uganda Village Project, and currently serves as the Executive Director. Her expertise in global health ethics has mainly resulted from making all the mistakes already herself, and trying to learn from them.

References
Association of American Medical Colleges. 2010 Medical School Graduation Questionnaire: All Schools Summary Report. Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges. Found at: https://www.aamc.org/download/140716/data/2010_gq_all_schools.pdf

Dyer, O. et al. What Is Global Health? Journal of Global Health, Spring 2011 online edition.

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

  • Jump Starting Your Job Search While In Medical School: Part 3

  • Posted July 25, 2017 by PracticeLink
  • Read  about steps 1 and 2 in Part 1 of this series  here. Read  about steps 3 and 4 in Part 2 of this series  here. You likely won’t start applying for jobs in earnest until you are a resident. But if you begin preparing for your job search while you are in medical school,...VIEW >
young dentist
  • The Advanced Dental Admission Test (ADAT) : What We Know So Far

  • Posted July 24, 2017 by Meera Maveli BDS, MS
  • Last year, the American Dental Association (ADA) introduced a new exam called the Advanced Dental Admission Test (ADAT). This was in response to the lack of scores from other standardized dental exams such as the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) Part I/II and the dental colleges having switched to using a Pass/Fail system. Advanced dental/specialty...VIEW >
  • Crushing It With Mental Illness During Med School

  • Posted July 21, 2017 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • Much like America, doctors are afraid of mental illness. Photo by darcyadelaide  Physicians are no better than the rest of us at dealing with mental illness, even as they work valiantly to get their patients to recognize and get treatment for their conditions. As society becomes more open about ‘mood disorders,’  it is still common for MDs to reject...VIEW >
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • 20 Clinical Practice Guidelines That Medical Students Should Know

  • Posted July 21, 2017 by Guideline Central
  • Clinical practice guidelines are the backbone of evidence-based medicine. While there are literally thousands of published guidelines, a few of them are particularly relevant to medical students. SDN Partner Guideline Central is offering free access to the top 20 clinical practice guidelines for all SDN members!  Related...VIEW >
  • SDN Editorial Board Now Accepting Applications

  • Posted July 19, 2017 by Student Doctor Network
  • To further the goal of publishing quality feature articles as a resource that helps students become doctors,  SDN is seeking members to join the SDN Editorial Board . Editorial Board members are responsible for reviewing article submissions, providing suggestions and feedback for authors, advising the Editor-in-Chief, and approving articles for publication on SDN’s front page.  Applicants should have strong...VIEW >
  • What Are Aneurysms?

  • Posted July 18, 2017 by Open Osmosis
  • Most people are familiar with aneurysms as “something bad”, but do you know what they actually are? When the walls of a blood vessel weaken because of high blood pressure or another disease, the blood vessel walls can’t contain the passing blood as well, causing them to expand. This video covers the pathophysiology of aneurysms...VIEW >

// Forums //