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Medical students as global citizens: a qualitative study of medical students’ views on global health teaching within the undergraduate medical curriculum

  • Blum, Nicole
  • Berlin, Anita
  • Isaacs, Anna
  • Burch, William J.
  • Willott, Chris
Published Article
BMC Medical Education
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
May 30, 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s12909-019-1631-x
Springer Nature


BackgroundThere is increasing interest in global health teaching among medical schools and their students. Schools in the UK and internationally are considering the best structure, methods and content of global health courses. Academic work in this area, however, has tended to either be normative (specifying what global health teaching ought to look like) or descriptive (of a particular intervention, new module, elective, etc.).MethodsWhile a number of studies have explored student perspectives on global health teaching, these have often relied on tools such as questionnaires that generate little in-depth evidence. This study instead used qualitative methods to explore medical student perspectives on global health in the context of a new global health module established in the core medical curriculum at a UK medical school.ResultsFifth year medical students participated in a structured focus group session and semi-structured interviews designed to explore their knowledge and learning about global health issues, as well as their wider perspectives on these issues and their relevance to professional development. While perspectives on global health ranged from global health ‘advocate’ to ‘sceptic’, all of the students acknowledged the challenges of prioritising global health within a busy curriculum.ConclusionsStudents are highly alert to the diverse epistemological issues that underpin global health. For some students, such interdisciplinarity is fundamental to understanding contemporary health and healthcare. For others, global health is merely a topic of geographic relevance. Furthermore, some students appeared to accept global health as a specialist area only relevant to professionals working overseas, while others considered it to be an essential part of working in the globalised world and therefore relevant to all medical professionals. Students also clearly noted that including ‘soft’ subjects and more discursive approaches to teaching and learning often sits awkwardly in a programme where ‘harder’ forms of knowledge and didactic methods tend to dominate. This suggests that more work needs to be done to explain the relevance of global health to medical students at the very beginning of their studies.

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