By Natalia V. Galarza, MD and Kristina Diaz, MD
Global health has been identified as an increasing field of interest in medicine. As Koplan et al, mention, it can be thought as a notion, depending on current events. A definition for global health has never really been reached by consensus, and so it seems that global health can be adapted to the necessities of the location and time.
Many definitions touch on the fact that global health should improve health and achieve equity for all people and protect against global threats that disregard national borders.(1,2) It has deep connections with public health, blurring the boundaries between public health and global health. Within these connections, we have “border health” as a unique part of public health, with many characteristics being shared with the broader “global health.” For family medicine residency programs that are geographically located near the United States-Mexico border, the teaching of border health is embedded seamlessly in the medical resident education, so much that we tend to diminish its importance and gravitate toward other subjects of public and global health. It is easy to overlook the unique populations that we have in our own communities and focus on those that are more conventional and shared with other residency program or educational goals.
Heidi Chumley, MD
As we continue to evolve how we prepare medical students to join the US physician workforce, we should continue to create global health experiences that will impact how we approach clinical practice—whether that be when managing a diverse patient population or when addressing the global health issues that are now on our doorstep.
When I was in medical school, we often saw the term international health in the context of faraway villages where issues like access to clean water, sanitation, and basic understanding of the spread of disease were at the heart of figuring out how to improve a community’s well-being.
As medical students, we viewed short-term medical mission trips as our way of getting a glimpse of the world outside our environment and gaining exposure to not just tropical diseases that we would never see at home, but also to the ways that healthcare providers in these settings coped in order to care for their patients.
Things changed somewhere along the way, and what we used to call international health became global health, the term much more indicative of a connected world where diseases–and physicians–crossed borders. A decade ago it was SARS and later the avian flu. Recently we had our first cases of Ebola in Dallas and New York City. Global health, it seems, has come home.
In the journal Family Medicine, Dr John Frey III of the University of Wisconsin writes that global health experiences can be “a treatment for [US] medical myopia,” referring to a seeming inability for the US clinical and educational systems to learn from other cultures and systems. “At its best,” he writes, “global health offers a perspective based on humility rather than arrogance and on an openness and generosity of thought that changes thinking and practice in all directions.”