Making the most of the Sustainable Development Goal 3: its overlooked role in medical education

UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2017)

(UN, 2016)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Aurelija Martinonytė, a 3rd year medical student at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Ms Martinonytė is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA). The opinion expressed in this piece belongs to the writer and does not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

In 1993 Charles Boelen described the “Five-star doctor” – a concept, we still look up to and aspire today. This doctrine describes a doctor as a “community leader”, “manager”, “communicator” and “decision-maker” as well as a medical professional (“care provider”).

Unfortunately, many medical students have little to none training on being more than the latter. As it seems to be a significant error of the current medical education there is an obvious need for a quick solution. Could this become the additional 14th target of the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3)?

Ironically, what could possibly make the Goal 3 useful in this situation is its flaws. Many scholars have expressed their doubts about nearly every aspect of the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. Some question effectiveness and significance of the 2030 Agenda while others even point out its potential harm.

Considering SDG doctrine to be of an enormous relevance since it was signed by 192 country leaders, such criticism might seem very disappointing and frustrating. However, questioning something of such importance and scale sends a very powerful message to future “decision-makers” and “managers”:  nothing should be easily accepted as the truth and carried out without a second thought.

Moreover, to question something as complex as SDGs, one should demonstrate a broad understanding of many disciplines and dimensions, such as social, economic, technological, etc. This is exactly what we should seek in an aspiring “community leader”. Lastly, lack of direct guidelines in the Agenda pointed out by the critics can be perceived both as an obstacle and as an opportunity for a young mind to find its own approach to meeting the goals of 2030. This provides a platform for a student to improve as a “communicator” as it was put by Dr. Boelen.

Although many medical students have already proven to be valuable health advocates and advisers to policy makers, previously mentioned examples illustrate that their participation is not just about reaching the Goal by helping those in need.

One should realize that this involvement makes up for the missing part of medical education and provides a unique chance to improve certain overlooked skills mentioned above. It is significant for the society since being a “Five-star doctor” is about serving people and providing the best medical services rather than the prestige.

It is stated in the Declaration of the 2030 Agenda that “we can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty; just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet“. We can also be the first generation of “Five-star doctors”, just as we may be the generation that lost this great opportunity.

It is an invitation for all, especially those involved in education, to encourage all aspiring doctors to explore the hidden possibilities in something that seems to be known so well. There might be only 13 targets in the Goal 3, but there is much more than that to be achieved.

About the author

Aurelija Martinonytė is a 3rd year medical student at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Ms Martinonytė is affiliated to Lithuanian Medical Students’ Association. She has interest in medical education, bioethics, human rights and other relevant medical issues and engages in writing articles on said topics as a representative of Public Relations and Communication team.

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