IFMSA-UNESCO Pre-Departure Training for the world’s largest Exchange program

My name is Tara D’Ignazio and I am a final year medical student from the University of Montreal. I had the pleasure of spending 5 days this past July learning at the AMEE Conference as part of the Student Task Force.

I am the Development Assistant on Academic Quality for Research Exchanges, a job which seeks to help transform exchanges into pedagogical activities that exist outside of the structure of a normal curriculum. To do this, I along with the exchanges team have sought to develop peer-to-peer trainings to help medical students abroad adjust to their new workplace reality. This year, the exchange committees took the initiative of developing a formalized Pre-Departure Training (PDT) in collaboration with UNESCO. This seemed like an obvious step to us: we’re taking semi-trained future physicians from various medical education systems and health systems, and suddenly transplanting them into new health systems with patients who do not come from the same cultural background as them. Naturally, this elicits certain ethical scenarios abroad. For example, have the students ever had to manifest their level of skill to an attending, or has it always been taken for granted since they’ve only ever practiced in their own health system? Are students trained to deal with patients who don’t share a culture with them? More importantly, have physicians been trained to do so?

Traditionally, Pre-Departure Trainings were informal gatherings with didactic information being given to caffeine-infused students as a rite of passage to their exchange. Now, we’ve decided to use the PDT as a platform to develop global health competencies in future physicians and as a platform to advocate for the protection of patient safety when on electives abroad. The training itself features 16 clinical cases that seek to emulate scenarios which a student could encounter when on exchange. Each case is discussed in a group of 5-8 students for 10 minutes, during which time each student is encouraged to discuss how they would approach the situation. More than the answer the students give for the cases, the discussions open a dialogue through which students begin to recognise their cultural bias and how it affects their responses. And that’s where the pedagogical magic happens.

To quantify the impact of this training, we had the students fill out pre and post test assessments. Through the improvement of their self-rated competencies, we were able to conclude that the students felt they had learned in the domains of basic medical ethics, cultural competency, understanding their level of skill, and basic research ethics. More importantly, we found that the training benefitted students the same way regardless of their level of training and regardless of whether or not they had had an ethics course before.

So there we have it – a training from IFMSA which develops skills not found in the standard medical curriculum. After my presentation, many deans from universities came up to me and, having recognised this, asked whether they could give the training in their universities even outside of an exchange context. The answer is obviously yes; IFMSA will continue providing non-formal education at the global level and preparing physicians to serve their communities, which has been our mission statement all along.

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