A Peace Corps for Doctors and Nurses

[Today’s Chronicle of Higher Educationhas an article by Katherine Mangran entitled “Would-Be Doctors Will Get More Opportunities to Study and Teach Abroad.” It is about  the Association of American Medical Colleges new Global Health Learning Opportunities,  directed by Dr. Janette Samaan. In the large world of the Peace Corps connections, Dr. Samaan is the older sister Laurette Bennhold-Samaan  the Peace Corps’ first Cross-Cultural Specialist (1996-2001). Janette is also married to an RPCV.

Another session at the recent San Francisco meeting featured a new Peace Corps for doctors and nurses program which will send its first participants to teach in medical schools in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda next summer, 2013.

Here is the full article by Katherine Mangan]

Fourth-year medical students would find it easier to spend a year abroad, and recent graduates could have student loans forgiven while training medical faculty in developing countries, under two new programs highlighted here at the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The meeting, which continues this week, drew more than 4,700 attendees from 27 countries. It has focused heavily on the need to encourage global partnerships that go beyond “medical tourism.”

“This is a generation in which two out of three have passports, they’re globally connected, and they see themselves as citizens of the world,” Janette Samaan, who directs the association’s new Global Health Learning Opportunities consortium, told attendees.

Studying overseas helps students become better doctors, more sensitive to the needs of an increasingly global population, she said. But it isn’t always easy to pull off.

About 65 percent of first-year medical students in the United States express interest in studying abroad during their four years of medical school, but only 35 percent manage to do so, she said. Central and South America are the most popular destinations, with 36 percent of the student trips, followed by Africa, with 22 percent.

The association’s new consortium facilitates study abroad for fourth-year students who are interested in clinical, research, or public-health electives outside their home countries. And instead of just sending American students abroad to soak up the benefits of a cross-cultural experience, the exchanges goes both ways, with students from developing countries studying in the United States as well.

Derailed by Difficulties

Twenty-four medical schools in 15 countries participated in the association’s pilot project. It includes a Web-based platform where students can search for and apply to programs offering overseas electives. Medical schools can post their electives and review student applications, and programs can share information about courses or features like predeparture videos.

Many students’ plans are derailed by difficulties in finding high-quality medical schools abroad whose credits will transfer to their home schools, Ms. Samaan said.

For medical schools in the United States, the challenges include finding accredited partners whose electives line up with their curricula and whose administrators can reassure them that students will be supervised and reasonably safe.

With a better system of keeping track of students, “No longer will deans say, ‘We know we have students all over the world. We just don’t know where,'” she said. When they’re not sure where students have scattered, “then, when there’s an earthquake or tsunami or flood, a great deal of panic sets in.”

Richard A. Hoppmann, dean of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, said medical students who study overseas return with a better awareness of how much waste there is in the American health-care system.

“When you’re put in a setting where resources are limited,” he said, “you have to think, ‘How can I make do with what I have?'”

To illustrate the point, he showed the audience a photograph of a student using a hand-held bicycle pump to help deliver an inhalant to the lungs of an asthmatic African child.

A Medical Peace Corps

Another session at the meeting featured a new Peace Corps for doctors and nurses, which will send its first participants to teach in medical schools in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda in the summer of 2013.

The program, which has been championed by Vanessa Kerry, a Boston physician who heads a program in global health policy at Harvard Medical School, will repay up to $30,000 in student loans for each year of service.

The participants will join the faculties of the African medical schools for one year, teaching and training medical students, residents, and faculty members in their specialties while caring for patients.

“Sending a doctor to a village is a wonderful thing, but sending a doctor to a medical school can have an amazing multiplier effect,” said James L. Scott, a former dean of George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences and a senior adviser to the program.

In the United States, there are 280 physicians per 100,000 people, said Fitzhugh Mullan, a medical professor at George Washington who serves as board chair of the Global Health Service Corps, one of the program’s partners. In sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, the average is about 20, and in Mozambique and Tanzania it’s two.

The program is a partnership between the Global Health Service Corps, the Peace Corps, and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which committed $30-million over five years.

It will accept some people right out of residency if they have had international experience or a teaching background. It also hopes to attract midcareer professors and physicians nearing retirement “who want to make their last contribution to academic medicine potentially their best,” said Dr. Scott. “Given how many doctors we import from around the world, as a government, and as medical educators, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help out.”

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One Comment

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  • I think it is an excellent idea to send doctors and nurses to teach overseas. However, I would think that this should be an AID program.

    I am not sure why this is a Peace Corps project. I have made a FOIA request to review the contract between Peace Corps and the Global Health Service Corps. I have also made a FOIA request asking to see the document that shows whether or not Peace Corps will continue to accept doctors and nurses as regular Peace Corps Volunteers. If so, then this program creates a two tier system within the Peace Corps. The members of this joint partnership will receive up to $30,000 to retire their medical school or nursing school educational loans. Doctors and nurses who would be regular Peace Corps Volunteers would not receive this help to retire loans.

    Also, evidently Peace Corps will do no training – cultural or language.
    Also,there is an assumption that doctors, right out of a residency program, are prepared to teach, even tho they have never practiced without supervision.

    There are the kinds of questions and assumptions that I hope the FOIAs will answer. The extension on my request indicates I should receive a response by November 20th.

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