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Why medical students want to change the world

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By Kunal Luthra, Vice President (External), Australian Medical Students’ Association. Kunal is a 5th year Medicine student at Monash University.

In July 2012, at a Council meeting of the Australian Medical Students’ Association, representatives from each of Australia’s 20 medical schools adopted a policy statement on the shape of medical curricula in the twenty first century.

They proposed that medical curricula should include a focus on “developing leadership attributes” that would produce a generation of medical “change agents”. They said that graduating medical students should be equipped with the skills to advocate for social conditions consistent with “the rights and dignity” of individuals and communities.

The primary message of the policy statement was clear: health does not begin or end in the consulting room. The ambition was to foster a generation of medical graduates who would respond to the health needs of their patients at an individual level, but also at the broader systems level. It meant that, in addition to anatomy and physiology, medical students should also learn about the social determinants of health and how to transform them.

Medical students are driven by the desire that drove them to medicine in the first place: to help people.

Learning about diagnosis and treatment certainly facilitates that, as does the ability to connect with and support patients while managing their ailments.

But for many, a deeper desire exists. They do not want to be just part of a health care system that churns out competent doctors into well-defined training pathways – they want to shape that system.

This has manifested in a significant and growing interest in global health and public health issues among medical students.

This interest has been reflected in the significant expansion of the Global Health Conferences that have been organised by AMSA in recent years.

The most recent conference, held in Sydney earlier this month, was an incredible and inspiring student-run event that attracted a distinguished list of speakers – including Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta.

The conference created space for discussion and action on issues ranging from climate change to free trade agreements, while more than 500 students have signed up to AMSA’s refugee and asylum seeker health campaign, ready to stand up for the health concerns of vulnerable individuals forsaken by successive governments.

Medical students around the country have been active on a range of issues this year, including internships and student numbers, refugee health, university fees, Indigenous health, the rural workforce maldistribution and much else, lobbying MPs and posting on social media.

They mobilised to voice their objections to measures in the Federal Budget that threatened equitable access to medical education, the provision of internships for current graduates, and access to health care for many Australians.

Monash University medical students have drafted a policy document on universal health coverage, proclaiming that “all people should have access to the acceptable quality of evidence-based health care that is required to maintain their health and wellbeing”.

South Australian students have arranged meetings with the SA Health Department and both State and Federal MPs to highlight the affect the Federal Budget will have on the number of medical internships in the State.

AMSA has been vigorous in its opposition to plans to deregulate university fees, and will continue to push against such ill-considered reforms in the coming weeks.

Why do medical students want to change the world?

We are a diverse, opinionated group of individuals – there are as many differences as similarities.

But we share in common a desire to improve the health of individuals and communities.

Medical education should harness this, so that our inspiration turns into action.

AMSA’s  Medical Curricula for the 21st century policy statement can be viewed at: http://media.amsa.org.au.s3.amazonaws.com/policy/2012/Reformat/2012_reformat_medical_curricula_21st_century.pdf

Follow AMSA on Twitter @yourAMSA