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.”