Medical training without borders: what’s still missing?

Medicine 2019__

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Ms. Aurimarcia Torres, a second year medical student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


People daily cross the borders in search of distinct realities, bringing with them their beliefs, habits and culture. With that in mind, it is important to consider a crucial question: To what extent are medical professionals prepared to deal with patients who belong to different cultures?

In several countries of the world, only a few specialists are prepared to deal with subjects from other cultural contexts. There is also common resistance in recognizing difficulties handling diverse cultural and linguistic codes. In some of these cases, doctors consider patients to be the guilty and “non-collaborative” ones.

The lack of qualification to deal with different cultures undermines a basic premise: the right to quality health care.

Studies and data surveys of the last decade show a growing concern with what they call multicultural education, cultural competence or cultural sensitivity.  Described not only as the usual knowledge of prevalent diseases in different populations or communities, but also communication skills that go beyond linguistic differences, allowing us to understand and access the system of beliefs and practices of specific societies.

Why is the inclusion of curricular components that follow this premise important for medical training?

Including precise curricular components in medical education is essential when recognizing that the main goal is to offer effective communication between the doctor and a patient who has different interpretations of reality, without the intention of indoctrinating or changing the way of living of future professionals. The teaching of a multicultural care practice expands critical thinking and allows the student to develop sensitivity to cultural differences – one foundation of medical preparation – to break the cultural shock that could make the doctor-patient bond unfeasible.

It is important to realize that the lack of understanding of the patient’s cultural background can lead to errors, since diagnosis is something that only makes sense within a context.

If the referential universe is not the same, will the doctor understand what the symptoms mean? As Abel Salazar has stated: “the doctor who only knows medicine neither medicine knows.”

To be a doctor is to consider the patient in all of its aspects, so it can build a good doctor-patient relationship, and thus, a coherent diagnosis and proper treatment, understanding that our role will be to care and never to judge. For that reason, it is important that medical graduation instruct professionals about the different realities permeating the world.

About the author

Aurimarcia Torres is a second year medical student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA BRAZIL), working as the vice-president of internal affairs (LVPI) in her university’s committee. She led and participated in the National Cadiopulmonary Resuscitation Day, and coordinated the “Fala sério!” project, which aimed to talk to public school students, about the importance of STD prevention.

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