Think Global, Learn Local: The Importance of Global Health Education

Rosalyn E. Plotzker, MD


January 09, 2017

These programs are not isolated initiatives. Rather, they are part of a wider movement to integrate global health into the medical curriculum in the United States. In 2013, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced a global health initiative in response to "increasing need to treat different patient populations, develop cross-cultural understanding, and learn about health systems and approaches to medical care delivery in other nations."

Dr Bell himself takes a rather enlightened view of what "global health" means. As he told me, "Global health is everyone's health... it's public health on a global level... Diseases have impacts beyond initial country or region, and for that matter, beyond medicine into international trade, economy, and governance."

During our conversation he also stressed the importance of cultural sensitivity, specifically the importance of "how to treat patients in a different culture; and patients from a different culture [when they are] in our own culture; and working in a treatment team of providers from different cultures." Dr Bell prides himself on the diversity of clinicians in his program, something that some domestic medical programs lack due to the barriers foreign doctors come up against in order to practice in the United States, as written about beautifully in the New York Times as well as The Atlantic.

My discussion with Dr Bell concluded with a final, obvious question—with an unclear answer: Why is medicine recognizing this now? What took us so long? With the exception of modern environmental changes, many of these issues are nothing new. War, plagues, famine, natural disasters, and migration have existed as long as humanity has. Perhaps rapid development of telecommunication has enhanced our sense of interconnectedness. Maybe the ease of travel helps make global health more feasible.

Regardless, seeing how these globally informed doctors engage in healthcare in the coming years, both abroad and at home, will be fascinating to watch.


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