Students Engaging Students in Global Health – One Egg at a Time…

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This week, we hand the reigns of TGH over to two young inspiring student doctors from Northern Australia. Jess and Brendon encapsulate the next generation of passionate, globally aware and connected medicos.. Here they explore their already impressive journey in Global Health.

 

Sparked by a strong sense of social justice and a desire to contribute to improving the lives of people worldwide, we are passionate about Global Health and believe students such as us represent an untapped resource with enormous potential for Global Health advocacy and action.

In 2012, on the cusp of becoming doctors, we were thrilled to take up the positions of Academic Convenors of the Australian Medical Students’ Association Global Health Conference. Held annually, the GHC is an event hosted by the peak representative body for Australia’s 17,000 medical students. GHC draws upon Australia and the Asia-Pacific region’s most passionate and motivated future doctors to discover and discuss strategies for addressing our crucial global health challenges.

The challenge: convene a dynamic academic program for Global Health in the new century..

A daunting task but an inspiring opportunity, we believe that within the multi-disciplinary field of Global Health, professionals can make a meaningful difference through consultation, advocacy and research. In addition though, we believe students have a powerful role to play too. Our aim was to create an academic program with a robust and diverse agenda that would engage and encourage our peers to pursue future opportunities in health, beyond their backyards – to undertake studies in Public Health, intern for NGOs, or to launch projects at local or national levels.

In 2012, we wanted a program that reflected the latest ideas and issues in the Global Health arena. With this in mind, the four-day program featured a variety of clinicians, development economists, climate change scientists, food security experts, sociologists, and population demographers. We believe that cross-disciplinary literacy and co-operation is vital in achieving tangible improvements in the health of our global community – a concept we were keen to impart on our peers and let them experience first hand.

In an effort to create structure around a number of overlapping and complicated global health issues, the program was tiered into international, regional and humanitarian/ethical perspectives. We incorporated a mixture of lectures, fora and practical workshops to engage with delegates. There were highlights everywhere from international to local issues; a forum on the political, health and environmental implications of evolving growth in China and India, to an update on the spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea, to finally the historical context of cardiovascular disease in Indigenous Australian communities.

Crucially, speakers at the Conference were of the highest calibre. Delegates had the chance to meet and learn from leading world experts, including a former Chief Economist of the Australian Agency for International Development, a former Greenpeace CEO and the Regional Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

From local to global…

We knew there was a strong hunger in the Australian medical community for Global Health education. From humble beginnings in 2005, GHC has grown from a small one-day workshop to a stand-alone, 500-student conference that sells out nation-wide in 10 minutes. This is a testament not only to the success of the annual conference, but more importantly, the ever-increasing interest in Global Health from medical students.

In an interconnected world facing multi-national challenges such as climate change and non-communicable diseases, the Global Health Conference plays a vital role in supplementing the core curricula of Australian medical schools.

The highs and lows..

This was not to say it was always smooth sailing. At times it was difficult to balance this responsibility with clinical, research, and part-time work commitments. But by sharing the workload, and developing a shared vision of the kind of Conference we wanted to hold, we managed to juggle our desire to host an inspiring and informative conference, with the day-to-day of university.

A favourite conference moment of ours came from one of the staunchest of clinicians. He is a respiratory physician with significant clinical and research experience in Indigenous health – someone who, by his own admission, “has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the policy table”. In a panel discussion, he mentioned that throughout his career, the decisions that have led to the largest improvements in the health of communities have always involved strong policy leadership and implementation. For us, this resonated loudly.

As soon-to-be doctors, we believe our strongest suit will always be bedside advocacy – we must be vocal and relentless in our call for a response to 21st century healthcare challenges, and we must demonstrate leadership in the implementation of evidence-based interventions.

So where to next?

This year, Jessemine and I will join the Australian delegation at the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) General Assembly in Washington D.C. in March. Its mission “to champion health access, health equality and the social determinants of health for global citizens” reflects our own Global Health Conference. Jessemine will also complete her final year of medical school whilst commencing her Masters in Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She will then spend the remainder of 2013 gaining some remote medicine experience in Cape York, Queensland, and on clinical elective in Takoradi, Ghana. Through these experiences, she hopes to develop a career that contributes to the improvement of health outcomes in vulnerable populations through fieldwork, practice-driven research and local capacity building.

I will take this year to focus on completing my Honours project in renal medicine, as well as spending two months in the clinics of remote Indigenous communities. In addition to this,  I will also update the Australian Medical Students’ Association policies as part of the Global Health Policy Review Committee. In my spare time, I am also volunteering with the Humanitarian Settlement Services program, assisting new refugees to settle in Australia. In a few years, I hope to combine physician training with a research career within the Global Health sphere, with the goal of commencing a PhD at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.

A call to all.

For those reading this, whether you are an undergraduate student, a young professional or an experienced professor, there has never been a more important and easier time to become engaged with the concerns facing our global community.

Technology and social media have not only allowed unprecedented access to information, but it also provides a vehicle for engagement in public discourse and contributes to policy advocacy. Social media has fundamentally changed the way that we connect – news now breaks on Twitter, citizen journalism is now as valuable as paid journalism, and the increasing presence of public health ambassadors in the digital era has created a new gateway for social mobilization in times of international crisis.

Although by their nature, global health challenges transcend national boundaries and may seem insurmountable, collaborative efforts and small steps are the best ways to overcome these challenges. It is therefore vital, that from each experience we convert inspiration into concrete action, however small those steps may seem. As a West African proverb puts it succinctly, “nice words are good, but hens lay eggs”.

 

Jessemine is a final year medical student at James Cook University. In 2012 she took on the role of Academic Convenor for the Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) Global Health Conference. In addition to physician training and acute medicine, her interests lie in sustainable development, the politics of global investment, and international relations shaping trade, investment and finance in the developing world.

Brendon Neuen is a final year medical student graduating with honours from James Cook University, Australia. Prior to his position as Academic Convenor of the Global Health Conference, he spent two years as an executive member of his University’s Global Health Group. He has a strong track record in evidence based medicine and research, including consecutive Summer Research Scholarships at the Cochrane Renal Group in Sydney. His main interests are in internal medicine, nephrology and global health. 

 

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