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Joining the dots between global health and medical education

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By Dr Rob Mitchell, Past Chair, AMA Council of Doctors in Training

In recent decades, global health (GH) has achieved recognition as an academic discipline in its own right.

Defined as an area for study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving health equity for all people worldwide, it emphasises transnational health issues and synthesises population-based prevention with individual-level care.

Doctors working in GH require knowledge and skills beyond those captured in traditional medical curricula.

Although Australian junior doctors are heavily engaged in global health learning and networking activities, there is no defined training pathway for those aspiring to careers in international health and development. In particular, there are limited opportunities for vocational trainees to undertake accredited rotations in resource poor environments.

While a number of Australasian colleges are involved in regional development activities, few have taken explicit steps to prepare fellows for GH practice.

It is timely, therefore, that a policy session at this year’s National Conference will explore the links between global health and postgraduate medical education.

The Integrating global health training and postgraduate medical education in Australia session will examine the barriers and enablers to trainees undertaking rotations in resource poor settings, highlight contemporary approaches to GH training, and provide recommendations for integrating GH education with postgraduate medical curricula. Panellists will also discuss Australia’s responsibility to produce doctors who are equipped to engage in regional health challenges in a global context.

The session will be facilitated by Dr Lloyd Nash, a consultant physician and global health practitioner with a long history of promoting social accountability in medical education. He will be joined by a panel of experts, each of whom brings a unique perspective to the discussion.

Associate Professor Rosemary Aldrich is Director of Medical Services at Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital. A public health physician, Associate Professor Aldrich has recently led the development of a global health curriculum for the Faculty of Public Health Medicine at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). This is the first project of its type in Australia.

Dr Georgina Phillips is an Emergency Physician at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, and has led numerous capacity building projects in international emergency medicine. In particular, she has helped establish a permanent rotating position for an emergency medicine advanced trainee to work at Divine Word University and Modilon General Hospital in Madang, Papua New Guinea. Dr Phillips has also developed a relationship with Australian Volunteers International (AVI), so that trainees working in Madang are supported through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

Dr Vincent Atua will bring a host community perspective to the panel. An emergency physician trained in Papua New Guinea, Dr Atua is presently Director of Medical Services at Modilon General Hospital. He has hosted numerous Australian registrars and consultants, and will be able to reflect on the value of the long-term relationship that has developed between his facility and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Dr Suman Majumdar is an infectious diseases physician currently working at the Burnet Institute’s Centre for International Health. Dr Majumdar has worked in a variety of international contexts, including in tuberculosis control projects with Médecins Sans Frontières. Some of this work was accredited towards his speciality training with the RACP, and he has an ongoing interest in developing career pathways in global health.

Several of these panellists have contributed articles to this edition of Australian Medicine. They have been published to help ‘set the scene’ for the global health training discussions at AMA National Conference. I would encourage you to read them, and consider what questions and comments you might like to contribute to the session on Saturday 24 May.

Australian clinicians are well placed to help tackle major challenges in global health.

To contribute safely and effectively, however, specialist skills and practical experience are required. This exciting session at National Conference will consider how we can join the dots between global health and medical education and, in doing so, develop Australia’s capacity to promote sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific.