Education for Health

BRIEF COMMUNICATION
Year
: 2008  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 177-

Building the Evidence Base: Networking Innovative Socially Accountable Medical Education Programs


B Pálsdóttir1, A-J Neusy2, G Reed3,  
1 Global Health Education Consortium, San Francisco, CA, USA
2 New York University School of Medicine, NYC, NY, USA
3 Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, Decatur, Georgia, USA

Correspondence Address:
B Pálsdóttir
8, Square de l«SQ»Arbalete, B-1170, Brussels
USA

Abstract

Introduction: To date, traditional biomedical hospital-centered models of medical education have not produced physicians in quantities or with the competencies and commitment needed to meet health needs in poor communities worldwide. The Global Health Education Consortium conducted an initial assessment of selected medical education programs/schools established specifically to meet these needs. The goals of this assessment are to determine whether there is a need for and interest in collaborating and developing a common framework of core principles and evaluation standards to measure the impact of the programs on access to care and on health status in the communities they serve. Methods: A literature review of 290 articles was conducted focusing on standards, tools and multi-institutional evaluation efforts of socially accountable medical education programs designed to increase the number of doctors in underserved communities. Site visits, which included semi-structured interviews with deans, faculty and students, were carried out at eight schools on five continents, whose core mission is self-described as training to meet the needs of the underserved. Preliminary findings form the framework around which a rigorous outcome and impact evaluation tool will be developed by participating schools. Findings: No systematic international evaluation of socially accountable medical schools was found and current tools to measure the social responsiveness of programs need more rigor. All target schools identified a need to develop common evaluation and collaborative frameworks. Preliminary findings suggest that these schools, although operating in different contexts and employing somewhat different strategies, share common principles and a core mission to serve marginalized communities. Conclusion: There is a clear need for a common rigorous evaluation tool for socially accountable medical education, particularly for schools created to address the shortage of doctors in neglected areas. While it will be difficult to determine the impact of socially accountable medical education on health outcomes, target schools agreed to collaborate and develop a common evaluation framework to strengthen the evidence base on how to train doctors to meet health needs in underserved area.



How to cite this article:
Pálsdóttir B, Neusy AJ, Reed G. Building the Evidence Base: Networking Innovative Socially Accountable Medical Education Programs.Educ Health 2008;21:177-177


How to cite this URL:
Pálsdóttir B, Neusy AJ, Reed G. Building the Evidence Base: Networking Innovative Socially Accountable Medical Education Programs. Educ Health [serial online] 2008 [cited 2022 Jul 5 ];21:177-177
Available from: https://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2008/21/2/177/101571


Full Text

Introduction

Since the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration committing to “Health Care for All by the Year 2000”, the role and social responsibility of medical education in pursuit of this goal has been discussed. Scattered reform efforts followed, some prompted by The World Federation for Medical Education’s 1988 Edinburgh Declaration on reorienting medical education towards the goal of health for all, as well as the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) and others on social accountability of medical schools (Woollard, 2006).

Despite these efforts, health disparities among and within countries continue to increase. Most medical schools, not least those operating in countries with the greatest health needs, do not produce enough doctors with the knowledge, skills or commitment needed to serve the health needs of poor communities. Traditional medical education in high- and low-income countries alike continues to emphasize a biomedical disease-oriented model that alone does not fully address today’s public health need, and often lacks firm social mandates (WHO, 2006; Chen et al., 2004, Woollard, 2006; Boelen, 2002).

Project Description

A number of innovative medical education programs, building on social accountability principles, have been established to address the shortage of doctors for rural, isolated and poor communities. In 2007, the Global Health Education Consortium (GHEC) received funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies to facilitate the development of a network of socially accountable medical schools whose express mandate is to train physicians for addressing health needs in resource-constrained settings. We are undertaking a three-part project in response to the paucity of evidence on effective ways to train and deploy doctors in neglected communities. This article describes the findings of the first phase, which is to determine whether there is a need for and interest in collaborating and developing a common framework of core principles and evaluation standards to systematically measure the impact of the programs on access to care and health status in the communities they serve. A joint evaluation tool will be developed during phase II. Phase III, from 2009 to 2011, foresees development of a knowledge base, including available global evidence on socially accountable medical education, as well as testing of the common evaluation tool. Through the three phases, a priority research agenda, evaluation standards and indicators will be jointly developed by participating schools with input from external experts. Other collaborative learning and research activities are also foreseen.

Methods

GHEC identified eight medical education programs of varying sizes and operating in high- and low-income countries, whose self-described mission is to train doctors for service in underserved areas. These schools are: the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba (ELAM); the Comprehensive Community Physician Training Program in Venezuela (CCPTP); the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Canada (NOSM); the Faculty of Health Sciences at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa (WSU); Flinders University School of Medicine (FLINDERS) and James Cook Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences (JCU) in Australia; and Ateneo de Zamboanga University School of Medicine (ADZU) and the University of Philippines School of Health Sciences (SHS) in the Philippines.

In phase I, to determine whether there is a need for and interest in developing a common framework of core principles and evaluation standards, we conducted a focused literature review, gathering preliminary information on targeted programs and assessing their commitment to collaboration. The review focused in particular on systematic evaluations of socially accountable medical education programs that train doctors for underserved areas. The literature search also identified existing evidence on socially accountable medical education that will be included in a more detailed examination during phases II and III of the project. The project team visited each school and conducted semi-structured interviews with deans, faculty and students to understand each school’s recruitment, education, faculty development and evaluation strategies. The team examined available internal and external documentation on the programs and discussed current evaluation tools.

Findings

Need to Strengthen Global Evidence Base on Socially Accountable Medical Education

While all the target programs are very promising, the programs in the Philippines are the oldest and the only ones to have demonstrated long-term success in producing graduates who remain in underserved areas (Afdal, 2006, Siega-Sur, 2005). The literature review of 290 articles and discussions with stakeholders revealed, however, a lack of systematic collection of experiences and evidence on socially accountable medical education on a global scale.

The review revealed a multitude of successful efforts at improving community-orientation and social accountability of medical education around the world. However, much of the literature is either descriptive, focuses on particular interventions or examines widely different outcomes. No rigorous, comprehensive international evaluation of socially accountable medical schools was found.

WHO’s initiative to define and develop measures to evaluate socially accountable medical education provides a solid foundation for systematic evaluation (Boelen & Heck, 1995) and includes a grid to assess progress towards social accountability. However, WHO’s document “Defining and Measuring the Social Accountability of Medical Schools” called for developing specific indicators and defining benchmarks to be used by medical schools around the world. While others have discussed this need, we could find no evidence that WHO’s call has been heeded on an international scale. A 2001 report based on the WHO’s comprehensive survey of the world’s medical schools suggests that standards and criteria used by most these schools still fall short of measuring the impact the programs have on health system development and health outcomes (Boelen & Boyer, 2001). Canada is the only country which has explicitly incorporated the social accountability framework into its accreditations standards of medical schools (Woollard, 2006).

All eight medical schools agreed on the need for new common evaluation instruments and committed to collaborating on their development. There was also an agreement that the common evaluation framework should include context-specific indicators to systematically measure performance and the impact the programs have on access to care and on health in the communities each school serves.

Context and Support of Institutions

Despite an increase in funding for human resources for health, limited emphasis has been placed on building institutional capacity, particularly in the Global South. Most of these programs are fragile; some operate in health systems that are, at best, non-supportive and, at worst, hostile to these efforts. All struggle with resource constraints and with gaining acceptance among peers and stakeholders, and, until now, most operate in isolation from one another. Interviews with leaders and faculty of these initially selected schools revealed that although operating independently from each other, there is commitment to developing a collaborative platform and sharing resources with like-minded schools.

Core Principles

Although the participating schools emerged out of highly different contexts, the health and social needs of their target communities was the starting point for all of them for their development of education, research and service components. The schools look beyond the traditional curriculum, seeking input from communities and other stakeholders to determine the competencies physicians must have to serve those needs. The answers to those questions help guide which educational methodologies are selected to instill the defined knowledge, skills and attitudes in students, given the context and resource constraints.

With some contextual variations, the schools have embraced several common principles, adopting somewhat different strategies in responding to the divergent contexts in which they operate (see Table 1). Strategies such as recruiting and training students from and in target areas and aligning curricula with target community health needs have shown positive effects on retention rates and relevance of training (Dussault et al., 2006; Lehmann et al., 2008). However, there have not yet been any international, multi-institutional evaluation efforts to assess the impact of adopting these principles and strategies on the production, deployment and retention of doctors in underserved areas.

Table 1: Descriptions of participating community needs-focused medical education programs and their core principles

Conclusion

The literature review and interviews at target schools clearly identify a need for a common rigorous evaluation tool to measure the impact of socially accountable medical education programs on deployment and retention of doctors in underserved areas and on health outcomes. While it will be difficult to demonstrate a linear relationship between socially accountable education interventions on health outcomes, the target schools committed to conducting collaborative research and developing a common evaluation framework to strengthen the evidence base on how to train doctors to meet health needs in underserved area.

While there is not one model that fits all, shared principles and strategies were identified among all eight schools. Multi-institutional collaboration and common standards are needed to build an aggregate evidence base on effective strategies to meet the global health workforce crisis.

Acknowledgement

The authors gratefully acknowledge The Atlantic Philanthropies for funding the initiative and the dedicated and inspiring deans, faculty and staff of the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba; the Comprehensive Community Physician Training Program in Venezuela; the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Canada; the Faculty of Health Sciences at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa; Flinders University School of Medicine and James Cook Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences in Australia; Ateneo de Zamboanga University School of Medicine and the School of Health Sciences in Leyte in the Philippines.

References

Afdal, K., et al. (2006). Alternative residency training program for rural physicians: a Philippine perspective. Abstract: 7th Annual WONCA Rural Health Conference - Transforming Rural Practice Through Education. Seattle, WA, USA.

Boelen, C. & Heck, J. (1995). Defining and Measuring the Social Accountability of Medical Schools. Geneva: World Health Organisation, Division for the Development of Human Resources for Health.

Boelen, C. (2002). A new paradigm for medical schools a century after Flexner’s report. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 80:7, 593.

Boelen, C. & Boyer, M.H. (2001). A view of the world’s medical schools: defining new roles. World Health Organization, Geneva.

Chen, L., Evans, T., Anand, S., Boufford, J.I., Brown, H., Chowdhury, M. et al. (2004). Human resources for health: overcoming the crisis. Lancet, 364, 1984-1990.

Dussault, G. & Franceschini, M.C. (2006). Not enough there, too many here: understanding geographical imbalances in the distribution of the health workforce. Human Resources for Health, 4:12. Available at: http://www.human-resources-health.com/content/4/1/12

Lehmann, U., Dieleman, M. & Martineau, T. (2008). Staffing remote rural areas in middle- and low-income countries: A literature review of attraction and retention. BMC Health Services Research, 8:19. Available at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6963/8/19

Siega-Sur, J.L.J. (2005). The UPM-SHS: Where Health Workers are Trained to Stay and Serve. The University of the Philippines Forum, 6: 4, 13-15. Available at: http://www.up.edu.ph/upforum.php?i=97&archive=yes&yr=2005&mn=7

Woollard, R.F. (2006). Caring for a common future: medical schools’ social accountability. Medical Education; 40; 301–313.

World Health Organization. (2006). The World Health Report 2006: Working together for health. Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.who.int/whr/2006/en/