International placements and elective terms are increasingly part of the medical curriculum in Australia, and many students choose to do short stints on their own time and purse to get extra experience.
But could they be doing more harm than good?
A study to be published in the upcoming edition of Academic Medicine has looked at whether these short-term experiences in global health (STEGH), sometimes referred to as medical voluntourism, are actually of benefit to communities.
Explains lead author Melissa Melby, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware:
“Most students who participate in these programs genuinely want to help people. But many of them may not be aware of the unintended consequences that can occur.”
Melby and colleagues have proposed four principles they say should underpin a meaningful global placement which is of benefit not just to the student:
- cultural humility
- bidirectional participatory relationships
- local capacity-building
- long-term sustainability
“We think these principles are relevant to a lot of student groups that do global work,” said Melby.
“Most people’s hearts are in the right place, but there are often aspects to what they’re doing that they just don’t think about.”