Debating on global health

(Edmonton) Two medical students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta are thinking outside the box and have developed an innovative program that has been incorporated into first-year students’ curriculum.

Sahil Gupta, a third-year medical student, and Haitham Kharrat, a second-year medical student, put together a program to help their first-year counterparts understand the global impact of tuberculosis, which statistics show is a global epidemic.

The program, a day-long event held Nov. 7, is called the World Health Organization Mock United Nations – Healthcare Debates, where the first-year class is broken up into groups and each group is tasked with representing a specific country or region. They met with content editors twice prior to Monday’s event and then were asked to do their own research on TB in preparation for a moderated debate.

“One thing we can get from [this mock debate] is how to treat tuberculosis,” said Kharrat. “But medical students don’t understand necessarily the global interplay and how the disease spreads. What [students] gain from this is an understanding and appreciation for international diplomacy and international efforts on how to combat global disease.”

Last year Kharrat and Gupta organized a similar event but it was a pilot project with just 20 students and was considered extracurricular. This year, the program is mandatory for freshmen medical students who are currently in their infectious disease, inflammation and immunology block.

“I think it’s a fantastic way to broaden their learning experience because they’re looking at a different perspective,” said Sarah Forgie, associate professor of infectious disease and block co-ordinator. “It gives them a chance to try on a different viewpoint and when they’re debating, they really have to take on that role. Rather than just passively learning about the information, they’re actively learning.”

It also helps develop some of the softer skills required by physicians, such as collaboration and public speaking, according to Kharrat. These skills fall under what is called CanMeds roles, which is compiled by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

“I think public speaking is a really important skill to have, especially if you want to get involved in health advocacy,” said Kharrat. “[Public speaking can seem] scary and I think [this mock debate] in a safe environment, you’re with your classmates, you’re trying a new thing.”

Forgie, who just started her master’s degree in health sciences education, thinks it’s wonderful that students are taking on this education initiative.
“I think this is what I always hope for: that students will take on initiatives and then teach each other,” said Forgie. “I think that’s the best way to learn is to teach other people and to see this amazing leadership that Sahil and Haitham have exhibited is wonderful.”

“I think both Sahil and I recognize that as students we require more global health education,” said Kharrat. “We need to get more involved in global health and recognize the global interplay in disease progression.”
Gupta and Kharrat’s first-year colleagues appreciate the effort these two put in to organizing this event.

“It’s been great in terms of awareness because TB isn’t usually a prevalent disease in Canada,” said Hilary Konder, who is in her first year of medicine. “I think it’s been a great learning experience in terms of opening our eyes to what we can expect on a global scale in terms of a disease that we may not encounter here very often and how, as individual countries, we can contribute to improving global health.”

“It’s good to look at [tuberculosis] on a global scale because we always see cases on an individual level and very specific to Canadian health care,” said fellow first-year student Mike Dussault. “In this case the mock debate made it really personal to learn about TB because it’s not just about the disease, it’s about giving treatment to people.”

The day-long event received funding from the Canadian Medical Association Leadership Innovation Fund.