Exchanges of medical students and the true understanding of global health issues


Mrs Iris Blom is the National Exchange Officer General at IFMSA Netherlands (IFMSA, 2016)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Iris Blom. The writer is a third year medical student at the University of Amsterdam.  Mrs Blom is the National Exchange Officer General 2016-2017 of IFMSA-NL. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA).

Medical Student on his Professional Exchange in Kenya: 

“I think everyone in the medical field should have an experience like this. I truly feel like I learned a lot about global health issues and learned to acknowledge the difference in culture which can affect these issues. I feel like I can be a better doctor because of this exchange and that I am better at handling patients with a different cultural background.” 

This quote is just one example of the many lauding comments we continue to receive from our exchange students after they return from their exchange in a foreign country. It illustrates what students can take back from an exchange, and it also describes the goals that we are aiming for by organizing these exchanges.

With ‘we’ I mean the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). IFMSA aims to improve global health world-wide. To do this, medical students from over 120 countries organize projects concerning different fields of health care. Professional and research exchanges are one of the biggest pillars of IFMSA.

Every year, over 14,000 medical students go on an exchange abroad. In the Netherlands, as IFMSA-NL, we offer Dutch students this possibility as well. The exchange entails doing an internship in a foreign country for four weeks. The student whose quote was used above did a professional exchange, meaning he was able to shadow a doctor and in that manner learn all about a different health care system. In the research exchanges we offer students the possibility to improve their research skills in addition to getting to know a different culture.

One could ask why these exchanges contribute to global health. The answer might be more comprehensive than expected. Through the exchanges students can experience global health challenges first hand. Not only are they enabled to shadow a professional, and in that way get to know the hospital or research setting; but they are enabled to shadow a professional in another country.

Here, challenges might exist that do not exist back home. Additionally, students might get aware of challenges that do exist in their home country, but have been tackled in their exchange country. This can lead to new insights on both the health care system back home and the health care system in the exchange country, and eventually in global health itself.

Through ample preparation IFMSA-NL tries to expand the growth of exchange students on the subject of global health to the fullest. Early on, the students are introduced to global health. Experts on the field of global health are invited to give lectures and students are pushed to set goals concerning global health prior to their exchange.

The results booked and the reactions of the students show that this exchange experience is very valuable and indeed helps them to understand global health, which is so eloquently illustrated by the quote used above. This, in turn, will result in future health professionals to be well-rounded and internationally oriented, which will lead to better health everywhere.

About the writer

Iris Blom is a third year medical student at the University of Amsterdam. Currently, she is the National Exchange Officer General 2016-2017 of IFMSA-NL, coordinating the exchanges of IFMSA-NL on a national level. She has been active within IFMSA since the start of her medical studies. Additionally she is active within Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, she does honours at her university, she plays field hockey and loves to sing and play the piano. Before starting medical school in Amsterdam, Iris finished her first year of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Swarthmore College, United States of America. 



















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