Medical Student Perceptions of Global Surgery at an Academic Institution: Identifying Gaps in Global Health Education

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Abstract

Purpose

Robust global health demands access to safe, affordable, timely surgical care for all. The long-term success of global surgery requires medical students to understand and engage with this emerging field. The authors characterized medical students’ perceptions of surgical care relative to other fields within global health.

Method

An optional, anonymous survey was given to all Johns Hopkins medical students from February to March 2016 to assess perceptions of surgical care and its role in global health.

Results

Of 480 students, 365 (76%) completed the survey, with 150 (41%) reporting global health interests. One-third (34%) of responding students felt that surgical care is one of two fields with the greatest potential global health impact in the future, second to infectious disease (49%). A minority (28%) correctly identified that trauma results in more deaths worldwide than obstetric complications or HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Relative to other examined fields, students perceived surgical care as the least preventive and cost-effective, and few students (3%) considered adequate surgical care the best indicator of a robust health care system. Students believed that practicing in a surgical field was least amenable to pursuing a global health career, citing several barriers.

Conclusions

Medical students have several perceptions of global surgery that contradict current evidence and literature, which may have implications for their career choices. Opportunities to improve students’ global health knowledge and awareness of global surgery career paths include updating curricula, fostering meaningful international academic opportunities, and creating centers of global surgery and global health consortia.

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