More on Medical Education in Africa

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Dr. Hiatt and colleagues1 reported that strengthening the population health focus in East African health professions education can better prepare the African health care workforce to manage the infectious and chronic disease burden across the life span of the population they serve. With the population aged 60 and older projected to grow from 64.4 million (2015) to 220.3 million (2050),2 African nations will face challenges in delivering health care services to older persons. Medical education in Africa must prepare future physicians to care for an aging population. We believe that medical education reform that emphasizes active aging starts by empowering African medical students as the igniting force.
As former International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations members, we have experienced firsthand the passion, dedication, and creativity of medical students as change agents in bringing attention to health inequities and social injustices across all age and population groups.3 We propose three strategies that can promote medical education reform that emphasizes active aging.
First, medical education should integrate material about the complex challenges in the physical and psychosocial health of older persons. With limited didactic geriatrics coursework in early training,4 medical curricula can integrate one annually required geriatrics course and clinical rotation, respectively, during the basic and clinical sciences. Second, required community training exercises can motivate students to apply their knowledge to community practice. Students can utilize social media technology and community mobilization to deliver health messages that educate community members about healthy lifestyles. Third, medical education should emphasize physicians’ humanistic role and the need for geriatricians and primary care physicians to understand the health needs of older persons. Medical students who understand social determinants of health and recognize the influence of intergenerational families can be effective health providers for the continuum of care and delivery of health services for the holistic health needs of older persons.
African medical students can serve as key health leaders to address population aging by promoting this new paradigm for medical education reform. This step, however, is only one factor of the equation. Sustainable intersectoral collaborations at all tiers of government, integrated with community participation, will form a foundation for achieving healthy aging for African health systems.
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